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Library display calls attention to banned and challenged books

October 9, 2012

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From left, library technician Lorena McDowell and Civic Center Library librarian Jamie Babcock looked over the display of banned and challenged books outside the library at City Hall Oct. 3.

WARREN — Patrons looking for copies of “The Hunger Games” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” were out of luck at Warren’s Civic Center Library last week.

Both titles were found on a list of books banned or challenged in libraries across the country, and while they haven’t been banned locally, Warren library technician Lorena McDowell said the copies they stock were checked out and thus unavailable for inclusion in a display recognizing the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week.

The display, coordinated through the American Library Association, greeted patrons near the entrance to the library, on the ground level of City Hall, beginning Sept. 30.

The list of books at the focus of the anniversary features contemporary best sellers, such as the J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series; and literary classics, including “To Kill and Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“It’s a collection of books that were not only banned, but challenged in libraries across the country,” Warren Library Director Deb Lambert said, adding that all of the titles included in the display are available — when they’re not checked out — through the Warren Public Library.

According to their website,, the ALA does not ban books. Rather, the Office for Intellectual Freedom complies lists of books banned or challenged across the country based on media reports and data from schools and public libraries.

Lambert said the governing commissions of libraries across the country have the power to consider books challenged at the local level, and in some cases, to choose to ban them.

She stressed the importance of employing professional librarians, trained in collections development, to help determine what exists in the collection and what serves the needs of the community best.

“A lot of people can become upset, but we have to balance that with the merit of the work and the interests of other people in the community,” Lambert said. “We want to be inclusive of everyone’s interests.”

Historically, many banned or challenged books have dealt with some of the most culturally sensitive issues of the times.

According to statistics compiled by the ALA, sexually explicit content was the most frequent reason given for challenging books between 1990 and 2010. That was followed by offensive language. Other reasons included claims that the material was unsuitable for a particular age group, excessive violence, a perceived link to the occult, homosexuality, religious objection, nudity and racism.

Parents most frequently challenged books during that period, and most challenges were made at schools or school libraries.

For more information about banned or challenged books, visit the ALA’s website at cacy/banned.

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