University City

Library celebrates banned books this week

Their language can be crass. Many are violent. Often the conversations they carry on make us uneasy.

But for one week, the gang of them will be brought together and celebrated, hauled by their jackets into the open to be honored for their worth. And if a rumble ensues, it won't be from them.

This week is Banned Book Week, an observance of all the titles previously banned or challenged in the United States over the decades. For librarians, it's an opportunity to recognize a collection of books whose respect is long overdue.

Each year, University City Regional Library, along with other branches of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, actively takes part in the celebration. In the past, librarians have read passages from their favorite banned books and engaged in candid discussions with patrons.

This year, the branch will focus its attention on the challenged titles of young-adult literature.

If the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom monitored the number of banned and challenged books across the country with a radar screen like the ones used by air traffic controllers, the map would hold few dark spots.

In the past three decades, the OIF has reported more than 11,000 books challenged across the nation, from California to Maine. Many of them are young-adult titles.

University City Regional librarian Tiffany Boeglen will discuss a few of those books Monday night during Literature Out Loud, the branch's teen book club.

"Usually they tend to be surprised," said Boeglen, when teens first learn many of their favorites - such as the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" series and "The Hunger Games" - have been challenged or banned. "Sometimes I think they feel adults make a bigger deal out of something than, say, they might."

According to OIF, which compiles its list from library, school and media reports, parents make the highest number of complaints, often regarding books in school libraries.

The most common reasons for challenges involve sexually explicit content, violence, or offensive language, or because some people considered them unsuitable for the age group.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has had relatively few books challenged or banned. In 2006, the district became the first in the country to ban "And Tango Makes Three," a children's story about two male penguins raising a chick together.

The book was pulled from four elementary school libraries under then-Superintendent Peter Gorman's leadership, after complaints that it promoted homosexuality to young children.

But almost immediately, CMS placed the book back on shelves after Gorman learned his staff hadn't properly followed the district's policy on banned books and that no formal complaints were ever issued against the book.

Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries also reviewed the book at the time and decided to keep its copies on shelves.

"And Tango Makes Three" continues to top the list of most frequently challenged or banned books in the United States.

Librarians have long advocated the importance of free speech and have pushed back against censorship when needed.

If they didn't, generations might never have read "The Great Gatsby," "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "James and the Giant Peach."

"We're a democratic nation," said lead librarian Kim Whittington. "Certain freedoms - it's like the foundation of democracy."