When Banned Books Week is commemorated for the 27th time this fall, the annual list of texts slated for possible removal from school libraries will be shorter than previously, if it follows the trend of the last few years. And it’s expected that there will be many more books on the list that were “challenged” than those that were “banned” from library shelves, since librarians and library advocates have become very skilled at fending off such demands.
For that they should probably thank Judith F. Krug.
“Censorship dies in the light of day,” Krug, who died this week of stomach cancer, used to say.
Krug, who headed the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association for more than 40 years, was one of the founders and chief promoters of Banned Books Week. The annual event, started in 1982, was intended to bring attention to the hundreds of cases each year when citizens or parents would call for a book to be removed from public collections because they found them offensive or inappropriate.
Krug helped to craft formal policies for handling such demands, which were adopted by many school districts around the country. She also designed and promoted thorough training for librarians to help them carry out school policies on challenged books. Those policies have allowed both a formal outlet for parents and others who have concerns about books on the library shelves and a detailed method for school officials to fairly and thoroughly review the complaints against predetermined standards for schoolbooks.
The ALA says this about the annual event:
Although they were the targets of attempted bannings, most of the books featured during BBW were not banned, thanks to the efforts of librarians to maintain them in their collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society."
I wrote about one such challenge in Arkansas, where the district’s clearly defined policy helped neutralize a tense situation.
I remember talking with Krug for the story at the time and she recommended I visit Fayetteville because of the painstaking work the district had done to craft its policy on challenged books, and then how that policy helped them through a very aggressive challenge. The superintendent, school board members, librarians, and teachers in the district all pointed to that process, and the help they received from Ms. Krug’s office in crafting and carrying out the policy, as incredibly effective and empowering.
When you consider that some 400 books get complaints significant enough to be reported to ALA each year, 70 percent of them in school libraries, and multiply that by all the years that Ms. Krug worked on that issue, it’s safe to say her work had a lasting impact on the nation’s schools.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.