Celebrate Banned Books Week at one of the branches of the Beaufort County Library through Sept. 27. It is a time to express your right to read whatever. In 1967, the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom wrote a creed based on and upheld by the United States' First Amendment. But life hasn't always been so kind to books and their readers.
According to "Chinese Heritage," by K.C. Wu, the emperor of the Qin Dynasty from 213 B.C. to 210 B.C. banned all books by burning them. The Qin emperor also eliminated about 460 scholars who taught philosophies that were different from his own as a measure of unifying his new kingdom. Since the first documented book burning, there have been at least 139 documented cases of book burnings to date. In latter days, the burnings serve as a demonstration of dislike for a book rather than a strategy to bring people into submission as one mind.
Historically, people who were held in bondage were restricted from being able to read books. They were banned from owning books. The 1740 Slave Code of South Carolina was the first document ordering such restriction in the British American colonies. Following the Stono Rebellion, South Carolina passed the Slave Code in order to control the movements and actions of enslaved Africans and other persons of bondage. Within this code, it is noted that if a slave was caught reading, writing, or learning to read or write, they were to be punished. The punishment varied from whipping to cutting off their fingers or hand.
To quote Sir Francis Bacon, "Knowledge is power." People who seek knowledge have the power to change their lives. According to the 18th edition of the Report Card on American Education, by Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dave Myslinski, South Carolina is 50th in educational achievement levels, performance and gains for low-income students.
Banned books like Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" books, J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series and Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" are meant to engage the reader, especially the reluctant reader. Sadly, these books have been banned in public schools in several states. Many low-income children's first library experience is at their public school. Their relationship with their public school library is important to their lifelong learning.
Whatever you want to read is accessible to the reader in a public library. Public libraries are bound by ALA's Intellectual Freedom code to assist the reader in finding resources on their topic of interest, and we are bound to keep the reader's inquiry confidential. This year, the ALA is focusing their banned books campaign on graphic novels. Comic novels like the "Captain Underpants" series, Jeff Smith's "Bone" books and "In the Night Kitchen," by Maurice Sendak, are just a few titles that have been banned or challenged.
As a free society, the right to challenge is honored. Books can be challenged, even in a public library. But if the book is removed from access to the rest of the community, then it becomes a banned book. Over the past 31 years, books like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain; "Slaughterhouse-Five," by Kurt Vonnegut; "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier; "Of Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck; "To Kill A Mockingbird," by Harper Lee; and "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger, are a few of many books that have been banned from the shelves of some libraries.
During Banned Books Week, take the challenge to get to know the book before you judge it by its cover -- the ending just might surprise you.
Maria Benac is the branch manager at St. Helena Island library.