Censorship in young adult literature: A YouTube Panel Discussion

Attending a conference, workshops or presentation relevant to a children’s librarian is difficult to achieve in Townsville, North Queensland. However, as a means of exploring censorship issues in young adult novels I watched an enlightening 1 hour long discussion panel on YouTube hosted by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) that took place on the 25th of February, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The YouTube video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqHYO6dmsBk

The discussion panel consisted of Laurie Halsie Anderson and Sherman Alexie, both writers of challenged books, Mitchell Kaplan,  bookstore owner, and Chris Finan, President of ABFFE. The panel discussed a variety of issues through anecdotes and frank talk which included what type of person makes book challenges and why, as well as strategies for meeting book challenges. Throughout the discussion the value of young adult novels as a means of introducing young adults to complex and potentially dangerous situations in a safe manner was constantly reinforced.

For those unsure about definitions, a challenge is a formal complaint about a book or other material, and a banning is when the material is removed or restricted (American Library Association, 2014). Historically Australia has had the strictest censorship policies of any democratic nation, with censorship decisions often being made secretly and even today Australia has no definitive list of banned books (The University of Melbourne, 2010). There is also no definitive list of challenged books available either in Australia or America, with the American Library Association (n.d.) reporting survey estimates that up to 85 percent of book challenges remain unreported. According to the Illinois Library Association (2014) most book challenges occur in schools and school libraries, with most complaints falling into the categories of racism, sex or profanity.

While I have always had a vague knowledge of the censorship debate, the discussion panel made me recognise several gaps in my knowledge about why people want censorship and what value uncensored material may provide to the community. While I understand that “minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005), young adult books can provide a way to discuss a dangerous situation in a safe environment. As Ms. Halsie Anderson comments during the discussion panel “You cannot discuss the consequences of a behaviour without first discussing the behaviour.”  Unfortunately the discussion of the behaviour is usually why books are challenged. Another knowledge gap was revealed by a focus group study by Isajlovic-Terry & McKechnie (2012); children’s view on censorship. According to the study children think that violence and scary content can be offensive to some readers. However, the adult concerns over content with “homosexuality, sex, the paranormal, witchcraft and wizardry” were not shared by the focus group. The children understood these controversial concepts, they just didn’t understand why adults were so concerned about them.

The discussion panel has aided in my professional development by strengthening my understanding of one of the foremost issues that I will need to contend with in my future career as a librarian. Forewarned is forearmed.

References

American Bookseller’s Foundation for Free Expression. (2013, April 2). Banned books, censorship and YA literature [Video file]. Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqHYO6dmsBk

American Library Association. (2014). About banned and challenged books. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/about

American Library Association. (n.d.). Books banned or challenged – 2012-2013. Retrieved January 22, 2014, from http://www.ila.org/BannedBooks/BBW_2012-2013_Shortlist.pdf

Commonwealth of Australia. (2005). Guidelines for the classification of publications 2005. Retrieved from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2005L01285  

Illinois Library Association. (2014). Banned books week 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2014, from http://www.ila.org/advocacy/banned-books

Isajlovic-Terry, N. & McKechnie, L. (2012). An exploratory study of children’s views of censorship. Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1), 38-43.

The University of Melbourne.  (2010). Banned books in Australia: Introduction. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/special/exhibitions/bannedbooks/exhibition/

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