Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Thursday, librarians at McCabe unveiled a new exhibit in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week. The American Library Association introduced Banned Books Week in 1982 to raise awareness about the importance of keeping controversial books on library shelves. Swarthmore senior Chelsea Collings came up with the idea of a display last year. “She had started with the [ALA’s] list of banned books and trying to see what we had in Tripod,” said Daisy Larios, the library’s new Reference and Instruction Intern. “I took over the project from there.”
The visually appealing exhibit showcases a diverse array of books that have been challenged or banned, ranging from Madonna’s “Sex” to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. At the party that marked the exhibit’s opening, “We had all this food that was a play on titles,” said librarian Pam Harris. She described a peach pie served in reference to Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach,” another challenged book.
An informative handout available to visitors lists startling statistics about banned books: 60% of challenges come from parents, and 76% of challenges are directed at books in school libraries. According to the handout, challengers most often cite “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” material, and material “unsuited to age group” as reasons for banning books.
Since the books in the McCabe exhibit are displayed under glass, it’s not possible to pick them up and browse through them. “We didn’t really find a solution for [that problem],” said Larios. She pointed out that although the books chosen for display were generally the “nicer, more colorful” versions available in Tripod, there are a number of spare copies that students can check out from the Tri-Co libraries while the exhibit lasts.
In conclusion, Larios says of the Banned Books Week event, “It really highlights the importance of libraries in keeping information available to the public.”