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Sewickley library plans events to mark Banned Books Week

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have little in common in terms of context and plot.

But both books — and many others — share one thing: they've been banned.

Libraries across the country often receive requests challenging the availability of books with what some deem as questionable or inappropriate content, Sewickley Public Library teen librarian Emily Fear said.

She is helping to promote Banned Books Week through teen programming slated to begin Saturday night and offer programs throughout the coming week.

Nationally, Banned Books Week begins Sunday and continues through Sept. 28.

Among reasons the library association says books are challenged include sexually explicit content and language, to gender and sexuality.

“More often than not, these challenges happen because the person doing the challenging hasn't taken to understanding the source material,” Fear said. “They see a word, they read a sentence, they get a description from their child that's maybe not an accurate description, and then they seek to ban a book.”

In a 2012-13 challenged books report sponsored by the American Library Association, Robert Doyle said most challenges occur in schools and school libraries.

“Frequently, challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children,” he said. “While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the ‘evil' against which it is leveled.”

From 2000 through 2009, the American Library Association received more than 5,000 challenges — with more than 1,500 due to “sexually explicit” material, according to data from the Chicago-based organization.

Nearly 1,300 challenges were deemed “offensive language.”

“You've got people who challenge ‘To Kill a Mockingbird' because of the era-appropriate language in it,” Fear said. “This was written in a specific time period and it's capturing a specific time period. What (author Harper Lee is) depicting is absolutely real. But people don't want to see that. They just want to see a word and get offended.”

Fantasy-themed books also tend to be challenged, Fear said.

“There's always going to be groups who protest ‘Harry Potter' because of witchcraft and wizards,” she said.

At the library — and at many libraries — patrons are free to check out content of their choosing, Fear said.

That could be troublesome for parents who might not want their children reading some material, she said.

Fear said she encourages parents to read the book and have a conversation with their child.

“Ask questions — ‘What's the book about,' ‘Who's the main character,' ‘What are you learning from it?'” Fear said.

“It doesn't have to be surveillance. It can turn into a really useful discussion.”

As the teen librarian, she and staffers work to prepare what Fear called age-appropriate content for the annual Battle of the Books event among local schools typically held in the spring.

“When we do our Battle of the Books list, we're always conscious of what grade levels we're working with and making sure we're picking things that are age appropriate,” she said.

“When you have a lot of students who want to take part in Battle of the Books, a lot of those kids tend to be avid readers or they read at a high level.”

Challenging a book could bring attention to specific material, Fear said.

“In some ways, challenges can be informative,” she said. “It can remind us of why we need these things in the classrooms and in our libraries.

“There are some things to be said about knowing why a book would get challenged to protect our rights. It's worth understanding how these books are valuable.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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