Thursday, June 2, 2011

CLEAR AS MUD : The Difference Between Censored, Challenged, or Banned Books

We Americans are flippant with use the term and idea of Censorship.

Is is censorship when a parent grounds an angst-ridden teenager for saying Fuck, Damn or Shit?  Is it censorship when a public or private school administrator refuses to allow the production and performance of Jesus Christ Superstar?  Is it censorship if a national bookstore chain refuses to sell The Anarchist Cookbook?  Is it censorship when an organized group of citizens ask to have a book removed from the shelves of their public library based on concerns about racism, sexism or witchcraft?

Yes, No, Maybe, KindaSorta? Not necessarily in that order.

Context matters. For the sake of my Summer of Censored, Challenged and Banned Books goal, I want to start to clarify the difference... with the help of ALA | About Banned & Challenged Books, 's 3 Facts About Banned Media and Censorship (etc), and Cool Coloradan Librarian James LaRue's 2007 book The New Inquisition....

THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF CENSORSHIP when content is removed from the original, stricken from the record, or "may involve the alteration, adjustment, or edit of an activity, product, or service" (

Additionally, according to LaRue (librarian context) "Censorship is the action by government officials to prohibit or suppress publications or services on the basis of their content" (LaRue 3 - my emphasis).

Not allowing material into a country, a library, a home - often because the contents cause extreme discomfort, the potential for chaos or doesn't jive with the preferred intellectual ambiance. There is a lot of crossover between Bans and Censorship but Bans are perhaps more a "prohibition" than censorship according to The American Library Association (ALA) seems more likely to use the term Banned than Censored. You'll also notice that "prohibit" is used to describe both censorship (LaRue) and banning (

LaRue page tres: "a request that a government body or official practice censorship" (my emphasis). So - sometimes material that is challenged - just stays that way: nothing official happens beyond a formal complaint or request to have the item removed from a collection. However, if a challenge is successful, and the book is officially removed, then we're dealing with censorship and banning again.

WTF?, It's Summer. Don't Make Me Think!?
This hurts me more than it hurts you.  I promise.  My brain is on vacation.  Part of the reason I've started my summer reading program with children's and juvenile banned books (In the Night Kitchen and Are You There God?....) is to hopefully give my brain a rest. 

It is not always useful to get hung up on semantics but I can see why a lot of English majors go into law school. I can also see why not everyone reads dictionaries for fun.  The differences matter when push comes to shove but if you want more nuance - check back after next semester when I expect my Censorship class will help turn this mud into mud pies - the edible kind.

Back to page 5 of Sendak's shocking picture book....

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