Banning ‘dangerous’ books?

By Mutant669 (Photograph) CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With Banned Books Week occurring Sept 24-30, it got me thinking about how we’ve dealt with particular books in my workplaces. When I worked in high school libraries we were faced with a perplexing dilemma – what do we do with books when the authors suddenly become criminals or are found to be immoral people? With young minds possibly being susceptible to these dubious characters and their behaviours, we don’t want to promote them as role models or appear to support their transgressions. Further, the parents of school students can be especially unhappy with particular books being in the library.

For example, we had a biography about Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times. He was seen as an inspirational person, but now has been found to be a ‘drug cheat’. The biography was written before this revelation, so took a very positive stance about his achievements. It also was located in the ‘True Stories’ section, was clearly no longer the case. We also had books by Rolf Harris, who was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault against some young girls, and we weren’t sure what to do with these books either.

Libraries have long been against censorship of any kind, arguing that we stand for freedom and equality in access to all information, and that it is not our place to decide what people should be reading but to simply provide the means to access the information (read the ILN’s posts on Censorship, and Banned Books and Intellectual Freedom). However, different libraries have different responsibilities to their users. School libraries may be more likely to limit access to particular books with strong adult themes. At a school library I worked at, certain books with suicide or drug references were limited to the senior students only. This can come from concern for their ability to understand and deal with these themes, and from pressure from parents and/or the school administration. Public libraries on the other hand may not be as strict and may provide much broader access to these types of books. While I haven’t worked in a public library, peers in the sector say they have had complaints about certain books, which they have refused to ban.

The more I look into it, the more I realise there are many ‘criminals’ who have written books. Chopper Reid, an infamous Australian criminal, wrote crime novels and even a children’s book. Schapelle Corby, another Australian who was convicted of drug offences in Bali, has written an autobiography. Are these books also unacceptable for a school library?

What about a book by Nelson Mandela? He went to prison for 27 years. What about Oscar Wilde or Dostoevsky? They also spent time in prison. Many important novels were written behind bars, so where do we draw the line and how do we decide what books are OK to add to our collection?

Many books that were banned in the past for being ‘dangerous’ are now seen as quite mild. Wikipedia provides an interesting list of books banned by different countries governments. From Alice in Wonderland, to Animal Farm and the Da Vinci Code, it seems someone can find issue with just about any book. But does banning books from schools and libraries achieve anything? Or can something be learned from these so-called ‘dangerous’ books?

If you are interested in reading more ‘dangerous’ books written behind bars or by ‘criminals’ here are some interesting lists:

What does your library do? Do they have a policy for these kinds of books? Please share your comments via our FacebookTwitter or our LinkedIn pages.

Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer.


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  1. Interesting topic! This write up leads me to deepen my thoughts of “banned books”.
    In the public library where I work in Cotonou (Benin), reading or information materials are accessible according to the readers’ age or the scholarly level of children. Children’s collections are separeted from the ones reserved for adults. On the other hand, the type of our library makes us less willing to buy autobiography books of politicians knowing that when we buy for some people we’d have to buy for the others.

  2. Hi Leon,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That’s an interesting point about books on politicians, as you say I would think a Library should not be seen to support one particular party more than others, so these books could really open a whole can of worms!
    I wonder, while your library has separated out ‘adult’ books, would a staff member necessarily enforce a young person not borrowing something from this section? I know public libraries here have different sections for ease of browsing and locating items, but these are only a guide and do not dictate what particular people can access.
    An interesting topic indeed!

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