Fanning the flames of banned books

Some people claim forbidden ideas lie in their pages. But next week when people throughout the country participate in Banned Books Week events to oppose censorship and Barbara Harville will be among them.

Harville, a communications professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, will give a reading from Maya Angelou's book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” one of the books frequently on the list of titles groups want to have banned from libraries and school programs.

This will be Harville's first year participating in the event.  She's become involved because she believes in a free flow of information.

"I feel anxiety when someone wants to prevent access to another person's ideas," Harville says.

This week libraries and bookstores in Anchorage and around the country will celebrate 20 years of “Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely.”

Angelou's “Sings” is no newcomer to the list of books being challenged. 

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. A successful challenge to a book would result in its being banned or restricted from access in libraries or schools.

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Angelou's autobiographical novel is in the top-10 most-challenged books in 2000 for its explicit portrayal of rape and other sexual abuse. It was previously challenged in 1994 at the Ponderosa High School in Castle Rock, Colo. (one of three schools to challenge it that year) because its opponents claimed it is "a lurid tale of sexual perversion."

“The positive message of `Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely,' is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection,” according to the American Library Association's Web site.

A report by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom says the top three reasons materials are challenged is because they were considered to be "sexually explicit," contain "offensive language," or be "unsuited to age group."

The organization received a total of 472 challenges in 1999. That number jumped to 646 in 2000.

Harville says people get nervous when confronted with ideas different from their own values.

"Banned Books Week serves to raise awareness about censorship and remind Americans that our freedoms can be fragile if we are not vigilant in protecting them," says Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Local readings and events for Banned Books Week will take place at Borders on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. and at Barnes and Noble on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m.  Any student interested in volunteering at the bookstore's staff table during these times can call Dawn at 258-0044.

For more information, access the American Library Association Web site at http://www.ala.org/bbooks/.