Claire sent me a review for The Golden Compass film today. It appears the religious right are up in arms for the books anti-church stance and the atheist left are disgruntled because they feel the film has been toned down in relation to the book. I can't really give my opinion either way on this point as I have not seen the film yet. But this wee intro does lead me into giving my opinion; quite forthrightly at that too.
When I first arrived in Paris, many, many moons ago, I didn't know about a young wizard with a lightning shaped scar on his forehead, and I didn't know that books were banned, but I was struck by the enormous tomes that my young students seemed to be dragging around with them. Having been open-minded enough to let one of my reading groups force me into reading a Redwall saga, I had then rather narrowmindedly shoved all those books in the 'large' category into my slush pile of 'never to be read' books.
I asked a colleague to tell me about the Harry Potter books, and while she lovingly stroked the cover of her book she did nothing to convince me to read it. Meanwhile 'His Dark Materials' was doing the rounds. I picked it up one day when I found it on one students table and couldn't get my head round the first page. It was Oxford, but not as I knew it. And what were these daemon thingies?
What did finally encourage me to pick up a copy of 'Northern Lights' was when the Librarian informed me that she was thinking of sending the set to the High School.
"Why?" I asked.
"I think it's too difficult for the students. If they don't read it, they are big books and it takes up room on the shelves. I could get other books."
It seemed like a convincing argument except I had seen many a student reading it. So I asked the students about it. They described the worlds and the characters and what they really liked about the books. I became a little more interested.
"The kids seem to understand the books." I told the Librarian the following week.
"Oh." The Librarian got shifty. "One of the parents brought it back. She didn't think it was suitable for her child."
I shrugged. "That's her choice as a parent."
"It's on the banned list in the States."
We had a rather heated debate which may have involved a few words I shouldn't have been uttering even in hushed tones in the library, but the upshot of it, was that I would read it and decide whether the set should stay or not.
Nowadays, I don't think I would have agreed to the last bit of that agreement. Having said that, I am glad that I got past the first page of the book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and having to wait three weeks to get the Subtle Knife was hellishly long. But that's not the point.
The point of libraries are there to encourage reading and to help a child develop. Think of the child who does not have the privilege to buy a brand new book, but can borrow it from their local library. Is it then the role of the library to decide if it is acceptable or not? No.
I don't think a public library is too different from a school library, it functions under the constraints of budget and space. And if it isn't being read then, that might be a reason to not keep a book. But should it be swayed by the views of minority extreme groups? No.
The hope is that the Library is the one place that is there as a neutral ground to provide the reading material and it is up to the readers to choose whether they want to read it or not.
I'm glad that I managed to get through life for so long without realising that books were banned (well apart from 'Lady Chatterly's Lover'). I'm also glad that having scanned a most Banned Books list that I have read quite a few of the books.
Meanwhile, I will continue to encourage children to read 'quality' literature and they will continue to check out 'Garfield' books. And when I look down the stairs and wonder why Martin hasn't made it up with the rest of the class I will smile when I see him with his nose stuck in the Garfield book, chuckling away.