Banned Books Week 2016
Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by a coalition of libraries, publishers, booksellers, teachers, and journalists, emphasizes the importance of the freedom to express and share ideas. In 2016, it takes place from September 25 to October 1.
This year, the Penrose Library display for Banned Book Week focuses on one particular example of restricting access to information: the attempt by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2013 to remove Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel depicting her childhood in post-revolutionary Iran, Persepolis, from the school district’s curricula and school libraries.
On March 14, 2013, news broke in Chicago that teachers in Chicago Public Schools had been told to remove the book from classrooms and school libraries. There was immediate pushback from teachers, students, and librarians, as the book was taught in many classes, especially AP-level French, English Literature, and Comparative Government, and attempts to restrict student access to it were seen as particularly hypocritical given its own critical depiction of censorship and political oppression in Iran. The CPS walked back from their broad removal efforts almost immediately, claiming that only use of the book in 7th grade curriculum or classrooms was to be restricted. The reason for the initial action and the extent to which higher-level CPS officials were involved was unknown, and the CPS spokesperson cast the ban attempt as a misunderstanding. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed at the time by the Freedom to Read Foundation was fulfilled only with previously published and circulated materials.
However, when University of Illinois graduate student in Library Science Jarrett Dapier filed a FOIA request in 2014 for materials pertaining to the Persepolis ban, he was sent an entire email exchange, which showed that there had indeed been an attempt to remove the book from all Chicago Public School classrooms and libraries, and an attempt to find and punish those responsible for its inclusion in Recommended Reading lists, together with a search for further “inappropriate” materials. The complete email chain that Dapier received is available here. The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog has a succinct overview of the controversy with links to other sources. Coverage in the Lane Tech High School newspaper (page 3) includes the text of an email sent by Satrapi to the student journalist who alerted her to the attempted ban – Lane Tech students and teachers were instrumental in initially publicizing the ban. An interview with Jarrett Dapier by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund contextualizes Dapier’s research and the events of the attempted ban.
Our exhibit, designed by UW Information School student and Penrose Library Circulation Supervisor Ellen Brigham, features selected articles about the ban attempt and information from the successful FOIA request. Additionally, we have information on display about recent book challenges, in particular to books with diverse content. You can check out challenged books to read yourself, as well as books from our collection on censorship, intellectual freedom, and the 1st Amendment, which are also on electronic display. [iframe src=“https://library.whitman.edu/res/include/bannedbook.html”]