School of Information students discuss banned books at Read-Out

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Graduate student Rebecca Halpern reads passages from Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” on the South Mall in honor of ALA’s Banned Books Week.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

[Corrected Sept. 27: Changed spelling of Jessica McClean]

When Information sciences graduate student Jessica McClean was in high school, she read J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” — a coming of age story that was once the most censored book in U.S. high schools.

One of her friends had to leave the room while the class read parts of the novel.

“She had to read a different book because her mom thought it was so inappropriate,” McClean said.

McClean and other literature lovers from the School of Information celebrated “The Catcher in the Rye” and similar banned books in the South Mall Monday night during the American Library Association and Texas Library Association’s Banned Books Week Read-Out.

They discussed formerly taboo subjects such as homosexuality and racism.

The UT ALA/TLA chapter brings students interested in libraries together through other events such as trivia, bake sales and the library crawl. The organization also offers networking opportunities for those interested in becoming librarians.

Members brought books ranging from Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” to Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” all of which had been banned at one time, and some of which remain banned in various schools.

UT ALA/TLA co-director Anna Fidgeon said some of the books were challenged, meaning someone requested that the book be taken out of public and school libraries, while others were banned outright.

“I think it’s important to read banned books to sort of bring attention to different ideas that maybe someone doesn’t agree with,” Fidgeon said. “It’s always good to have both sides.”

Fidgeon said she encouraged members to bring their favorite banned books to the read-out, but she also brought a stack of her own books with highlighted passages that contributed to their banning.

Members debated the ideas of censorship and shared personal experiences about reading banned books in schools.

Those who brought their own books read their favorite passages and discussed the ethics of banning books, especially in the case of children getting hold of them.

The books discussed were banned for containing sexual content, religious viewpoints, language or for being inappropriate for a particular age group.

The Insider, the School of Information’s electronic mailing list, received a protest email before the read-out. The email, addressed to “fellow iSchoolers” said, “The ALA’s Banned-Book Week is a charade intended to grossly exalt the unlimited circulation of any book; no matter how outrageous, shameless or vile.”

The 2011 banned books list contains classic titles as well as some more recent titles, including Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series.

Many in the group concurred that banning books is not an effective or appropriate way to censor the information we take in as a society.

“[By banning books] you’re not just deciding what’s right for you and your family,” said information sciences graduate student Kathryn Kramer. “Who are they to decide what someone else’s children see?”

Printed September 27, 2011 as: Students commemorate previously banned books