Banned Books Week
Next week, public libraries everywhere will celebrate Banned Books Week. During that week, we highlight books whose content has been both challenged and celebrated for various reasons and at various times.
This year, the theme is “Books unite us. Censorship divides us.” It’s a clear reference to the deep polarization in our world today, where people take sides against each other over specific ideologies.
How can books unite us if they often posit ideas that we so strongly disagree with? Wouldn’t they simply be mechanisms to divide us further?
Not necessarily. The deepest divides happen not when we hold different views of the world and opinions of how to fix what ails it. Rather, the rift deepens most when we’re not listening to the other side, not trying to understand – really understand – why they hold the ideas they do.
When it comes to issues we feel deeply about, it’s also one of the hardest things to do. If you don’t have a journalism background (or even if you do), it’s pretty challenging to talk with someone who you think is dead wrong or who you feel holds views that could be harmful to society.
The upside of reading a book is that you can set it down when your blood pressure rises, and pick it up later when you’re calmer. You can argue with the author all you want, and they won’t hear you (unless you write them, of course) or be offended. You can take more time to digest the words and even go back and revisit them to see if you understood them correctly. No hurt feelings, no broken relationships, no awkward conversations – just you musing over the author’s perspective and ideas.
In addition, you can read other people’s opinions of the author’s ideas and presentation in book reviews. Some reviews are by other professionals in the field, others are by folks like us who like to share their opinions (and others are fakes, but that’s a whole different subject). You can discover other authors who agree or disagree, or who cover the subject from a different angle.
Furthermore, a book gives you the opportunity to verify some facts. Most people have not been trained to verify research at a professional level. Tip: simple Googling is not research, and neither is asking your friends! Real research involves hours of meticulous source and fact checking, and most of us don’t have time for that. Instead, we can “outsource” the task to professional fact-checkers. Or ask a professional research librarian who not only has the requisite training to verify facts, but also has the ethical responsibility to remain viewpoint-neutral.
Finally, a book gives you the opportunity to understand the other point of view. You may still disagree, but if you can understand why they believe or promote what they do, then you can often find some common ground for moving forward.
A healthy democracy relies on well-informed citizens who pursue solutions together. Next week, let’s celebrate the ways books can unite us.
– Botetourt County Libraries