For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 28, 1996 - In Defense of Reading Contest
In about a month, librarians all across the country will observe "Banned Books Week." As usual, we'll have various displays about materials that have been challenged in school and public libraries.
I write about this event every year, because I believe few issues are so central to the very purpose of librarianship. Opposition to censorship isn't about calling people names (zealot! liberal! censor!). It's about "intellectual freedom", even for those people who disagree with you. It's about the sanctity of individual inquiry.
From the safety of a library chair, you can walk the inner city, or the surface of Mars. You can immerse yourself in the words of Jesus -- or of Darwin. In a library, you're limited only by your vocabulary and your reading speed.
But as I say, I've written about this every year. As I talked this over with the editor of the News Press, Rich Bangs, we thought it would be an interesting change of pace to let you, the reader, tell us what Banned Books Week means to you.
I am pleased, therefore, to announce the 1996 In Defense of Reading Essay Contest, jointly sponsored by the Douglas County News Press and the Douglas Public Library District.
Who can participate? There are two categories: High School and Adult. For the High School category you have to be either in High School or if in private school or learning at home, between the ages of 13 and 19. For the Adult category, you have to be 18 or older, and no longer in high school. The contest is open only to Douglas County residents. Library, newspaper, or school district employees may not participate.
What are the rules for the contest?
SUBJECT: the general topic is "In Defense of Reading." Specifically, you have to "defend" one of the 50 books that has been challenged in a library. See the sidebar, "The Most Frequently Challenged Books in the 1990s."
The approach is up to you. But in some fashion you must address the central idea: defending the reading of a book that someone has asked that a library remove from its collection.
FORMAT: each entry should be typed on 8-1/2 by 11" paper, double-spaced, accompanied by a cover page that has your name, the name of your essay, and the category of the entry: HIGH SCHOOL or ADULT. Your name should NOT appear anywhere else on the essay. Pages should be numbered. Do not staple or paper clip them together. Each entry should be submitted, not folded, in an envelope labeled, "IN DEFENSE OF READING CONTEST."
LENGTH: entries may be no longer than 400 words.
DEADLINE: all entries must be received by September 11, 1996. (Please note: that's RECEIVED, not postmarked.)
LOCATION: drop off your entries at any Douglas Public Library District location whose phone number is listed below. If you don't know where YOUR local library is, shame on you! Here's a quick list of phone numbers: Castle Rock: 688-5157; Highlands Ranch: 791-7703; Oakes Mill: 799-4449; Parker: 841-3503. Or you may mail your entry to IN DEFENSE OF READING, Douglas Public Library District, 961 S Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.
JUDGING: the entries will be judged by Rich Bangs, me, and one other person (I'm trying to get someone from the school district). The decisions of the judges are final.
WHAT DO I WIN? The winning entries will be printed in the September 25, 1996 edition of the News Press. Winners will also receive a gift certificate for the Hooked On Books book store in Castle Rock, and a free one year's subscription to the News Press. There will be at least one winner in each category. Depending upon space, some of the other entries may appear in the News Press as well.
SIDEBAR: "The Most Frequently Challenged Books in the 1990s"
This is taken from the table of contents of "Banned in the U.S.A." by Herbert N. Foerstel. It lists the fifty books that were most frequently challenged in schools and public libraries in the United States between 1990 and 1992. ("Challenged" means that a library patron requested that the title be withdrawn from the library's collection.)
1. "Impressions" Edited by Jack Booth et al.
2. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
3. "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger
4. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
5. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier
6. "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson
7. "Scary Stories in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz
8. "More Scary Stories in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz
9. "The Witches" by Roald Dahl
10. "Daddy's Roommate" by Michael Willhoite
11. "Curses, Hexes, and Spells" by Daniel Cohen
12. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
13. "How to Eat Fried Worms" by Thomas Rockwell
14. "Blubber" by Judy Blume
15. "Revolting Rhymes" by Roald Dahl
16. "Halloween ABC" by Eve Merriam
17. "A Day No Pigs Would Die" by Robert Peck
18. "Heather Has Two Mommies" by Leslea Newman
19. "Christine" by Stephen King
20. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
21. "Fallen Angels" by Walter Myers
22. "The New Teenage Body Book" by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
23. "Little Red Riding Hood" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
24. "The Headless Cupid" by Zilpha Snyder
25. "Night Chills" by Dean Koontz
26. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
27. "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles
28. "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut
29. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
30. "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl
31. "The Learning Tree" by Gordon Parks
32. "The Witches of Worm" by Zilpha Snyder
33. "My Brother Sam Is Dead" by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
34. "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
35. "Cujo" by Stephen King
36. "The Great Gilly Hopkins" by Katherine Paterson
37. "The Figure in the Shadows" by John Bellairs
38. "On My Honor" by Marion Dane Bauer
39. "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak
40. "Grendel" by John Champlin Gardner
41. "I Have to Go" by Robert Munsch
42. "Annie on My Mind" by Nancy Garden
43. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain
44. "The Pigman" by Paul Zindel
45. "My House" by Nikki Giovanni
46. "Then Again, Maybe I Won't" by Judy Blume
47. "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
48. "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols" by Edna Barth
49. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
50. "Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones" by Alvin Schwartz