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'Banned Books Week' is a Misnomer, Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

'Banned Books Week' is a Misnomer, Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

September 24, 2016

ARW09 1512 RF"An avid reader goes to a bookstore to find something to read," begins a newspaper column by Jeffrey M. McCall. "The reader narrows his choice to two books, then decides to purchase the one that best suits his interests. By the standards of the American Library Association, the reader has just chosen to ban or censor the book not chosen."

McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, continues, "Banned Books Week (Sept. 25-Oct.1) is upon us, the annual awareness effort of the ALA to promote the freedom to read. The week features library displays, events and a virtual 'read-out'of 'banned' books on YouTube. ALA states on its website that the week 'highlights the value of free and open access to information,' and provides 'support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.' The cause is noteworthy, and the ALA’s work to promote intellectual freedom is commendable. The ALA overreaches, however, when it confuses judgment with censorship."

The professor, who authored the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, observes, "The books on the ALA’s list of challenged books are, in reality, not banned or censored. The books are widely available in bookstores and many libraries for any citizen to read. A truly banned book would be eliminated from the public domain by government order, with penalties for offenders who distribute or read the censored material. That does happen in certain nations, but the United States is not one of them."

McCall adds, "It is true some schools and libraries decide that certain books are not suitable for their constituencies. But that’s not necessarily censorship. That is selection ... Much like an individual reader deciding what to read, librarians and teachers make decisions about what material to include in a library or academic course. Those decisions are based on many factors, including budget, suitability for patrons of the library, and community standards. In short, every book can’t be included in every library or on every high school’s ninth-grade reading list. When librarians choose to include certain books in the collection and not others, they are not fascists or censors. Neither are local taxpayers who raise questions about why limited public funds were used to purchase certain materials and not others."

In Dr. McCall's view, "while the First Amendment provides a right to read, citizens should not expect any one library or school is mandated to provide any or all particular reading materials. If the local library determines Fifty Shades of Grey is unsuitable for the community, individuals can still access that book through individual purchase.

His column, which is being published in a number of American newspapers this weekend, concludes, "The ALA should clarify its push for intellectual inquiry by renaming Banned Books Week. Focus on Americans’ precious right to access whatever books they wish, unhindered by government censorship. Help them understand that a book missing from the public library’s shelf is not 'banned,' just because it didn’t meet selection criteria."

You'll find the complete essay at the website of California's Napa Valley Register.

A 1976 graduate of DePauw, where he was a Rector Scholar, Jeff McCall earned a master's degree from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. A former journalist, he serves as faculty adviser to student radio station WGRE.

Regularly cited by major media outlets, McCall was quoted this week in an article in The Hill which received worldwide distribution.  Last Saturday, he spent 20 minutes discussing media bias and campaign coverage on Chicago's WGN Radio  and was quoted in a September 15 Christian Science Monitor story. The professor serves as an editorial consultant for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

Source: Napa Valley (Cal.) Register