Lorena O’English’s love of books was, not untypically, nurtured by her parents. They also gave her another gift: no limits on what she could read. So when she was 11, O’English checked out “Green Darkness,” a 1972 novel by Anya Seton, from the Tucson public library.
“It had time travel to Tudor England and illicit sex—I vividly recall being unable to put the book down,” said O’English, social sciences librarian at WSU. “Our public library let parents restrict their children from checking out books that were not in the children’s section, but my parents would not have even considered doing that.”
That freedom introduced O’English to science fantasy, dystopian fiction, satire and more as she grew up. One might argue that it also set her up for her future career.
In honor of unrestricted reading, O’English created a display of banned or challenged books and DVDs in Terrell Library this week for annual Banned Books Week, which runs through Saturday, Oct. 1.
Challenging books is not limited to public or school libraries, O’English said. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom estimates that there were 66 cases of books and movies challenged in academic libraries between 1990 and 2016.
The reasons books are challenged are expanding as well. Along with explicit sex and offensive language, banning institutions are adding homosexuality/sexual identity, religious viewpoint and political viewpoint to their rationales for removing materials. These restrictions fly in the face of what colleges and universities stand for, O’English said.
“College is where people explore new ideas,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is restrict exposure to new ideas.
“Students are future teachers, future parents and future employees working in communities affected by this issue,” she said. “My philosophy is read what you want to read, but read it all with an open mind and through a critical lens.”
In addition to checking out materials suggested in O’English’s exhibit, Terrell Library patrons are encouraged to leave their answers to posted questions about Banned Books Week on an adjacent whiteboard. To see a list of frequently challenged books, visit http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks.
—By Nella Letizia