Banned Book Week puts censorship behind bars

Ross Passeck, Sports editor

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How to see a pair of eyes changed the perception of Banned Books Week.

Each year the American Library Association dedicates an entire week to preventing censorship at local libraries.

This year’s theme was “Readstricted,” a play on words meant to encourage the reading of restricted material.

Accompanying that slogan was a poster that spurred intense debate and controversy at libraries everywhere, including Linfield’s Nicholson Library.

The display at Nicholson for banned books week features a jail cell with several books wearing orange paper jumpsuits while the controversial ALA poster sits at the end of the display.

“This was the library’s way of saying that some books are unjustly put imprisoned by censorship,” lead library worker Kytana Winn ’17 said. “These books need to break out and we need to crack down on censorship.”

The poster in question features an ethnic woman reading a book with a do not enter sign on the cover with the text “Readstricted.” The center line in the do not enter sign is cut out allowing the woman’s eyes to be seen through the book, but only her eyes.

For many viewers it is simply a sign promoting the reading of banned books though for others the image was more sinister.

“It was one of those things where when I saw it I didn’t immediately see the stylized image of a woman wearing a niqab but once I saw it I couldn’t un-see it,” reference librarian Patrick Wohlmut said.

The perception of this woman wearing a niqab is common and extremely offensive to some causing further conflicts to arise when considering posting this image in a public library.

“As a librarian I have the concern that I may not find this offensive but if I put it up in my library, is one of my patrons going to find it offensive?” Wohlmut said. “But in the end if we’re going to say that we stand against censorship we have to stand against it, and we have to give people an opportunity to converse about the value of this poster.”

Conversation has bloomed from the library and beyond due to this poster.

“I was trying to get some background myself, as someone who didn’t initially see the woman wearing a niqab, and I was on the ALA online forum and it just got really heated,” Winn said.

“One side argued it was impossible to use this poster as a reference to banning anything. The other side saw it as a great opportunity to reference banned books.

The effects of this poster extended farther than internet forums.

This poster was affecting the message of Banned Books Week as well. It is no longer about the numerous texts that are being censored and the injustice behind such an act. Instead, it may be more apt to rename the week banned censorship week.

The breadth of the conversation has expanded beyond merely literary texts to greater social, religious, and racial issues and how certain materials can enflame one group or another.

“These discussions are happening between academic people,” Winn said. “[Academics] still can’t make up their minds. So if the highly educated can’t figure it out how is the general public going to react to it?”

With Banned Books Week coming to an end, there is proof that this poster has attracted and encouraged discussion from countless perspectives and brought increased attention to the concept of censorship.

“I think it has added to Banned Books Week … I see people go to the books but linger at the poster and read the blurb. It definitely causes conversation. We are an academic library, so let’s hear what everyone else has to say,” Winn said.