James LaRue, author of “On Censorship,” joins the Bookworm of Edwards on Banned Books Week
Banned Books Week is annually celebrated by bookstores, schools, and libraries across the country to bring awareness to the books that are most banned and challenged at those institutions, to highlight the value of free and open access to information, and to support the freedom to express ideas.
This year Banned Books Week is October 1-7, and to celebrate, James LaRue will be at the Bookworm on Oct. 3 to present his book, “On Censorship,” that uses humor, reason, and intelligence, to build a case against censorship as he recounts stories from his experience as a librarian confronting book banning, while also casting a wider net to encompass larger issues of censorship. Librarians and educators get into this event for free, to recognize the effort it takes to be on the front lines of book banning and censorship in this current moment.
Combating book banning fueled LaRue’s long public librarian career, and inspired his research into censorship. “I got interested in censorship for the same reason Banned Books Week displays are so interesting: who doesn’t want me to read this and why?” LaRue said. “Then I dealt with 1500 challenges in my career as a public librarian–and they’re surging now. Ultimately, I have always felt called to librarianship. It seems to me that the institution is more important now than it’s ever been, both to continue to advocate for the sheer liberating power of literacy, and to fight the growing authoritarianism in our country and the world.”
“It’s important to remember that libraries serve many people, check out many books, offer many programs and exhibits,” LaRue said. “That’s our real story. By contrast, the number of challenges, and successful bans, is a tiny fraction of that. But the folks who do the challenging are getting bolder, and rely more and more on the techniques of intimidation. Philosophy, words, institutions, have meaning and power. We need to stand up for the things that matter to us personally, as a community, and as a nation.”
During his career, LaRue saw censorship efforts come from both political extremes. “Censorship comes from the far left and the far right; they are more like each other than the majority of folks in the middle,” LaRue said. “By far, the majority of challenges come from the right, and they seek to silence roughly 3% of voices in libraries that reflect previously marginalized groups, mostly LGBTQ and people of color. From the left, some folks call for the great expansion of those new voices, but also want to remove or replace those older works and their less inclusive perspectives. At both extremes, the attempt is not only to suppress the views of the other side, but to push their own.”
Support Local Journalism
- What: On Censorship with James LaRue
- When: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 6 p.m.
- Where: The Bookworm of Edwards (295 Main Street C101, Edwards, CO 81632)
- Cost: $10 (Librarians & Educators for free)
- More Info: Call 970-926-READ or visit BookwormOfEdwards.com/events
In his book, LaRue breaks down four basic reasons that people challenge materials. “Personal prejudice, often based on childhood trauma; parental panic, ‘oh my god, my children are growing up;’ demographic panic, ‘you mean I’m not the most important person in the national narrative anymore?’; and will for power,” LaRue said. “I think a relatively small group of partisan operators now push a message of fear and bigotry to rile up the base, keep the campaign contributions flowing, and tear down public infrastructure. We live in a tricky time. The combination of deliberate misinformation and naked greed, for money and power, may tilt the world, as it did in 1938, into tragedy. Or, it may result in a rebirth of commitment to telling the human story. For now, all of us need to defend the freedom to read.”
The freedom to read is just as important to LaRue as the freedom of speech, and he has several suggestions on how to defend both. “We wouldn’t have had a constitution without the promise of a bill of rights,” LaRue said. “And there’s a reason the amendment establishing free speech is the first. Whether our aims are to find truth, to express ourselves, to live by our own conscience, to hold those in power accountable, or to advocate for social change, the right to speak freely — and access the speech of others — is essential. How do we do it? Engage, speak up, read, support your local bookstores and newspapers. Have meaningful conversations.”