to kill mockingbirdMy favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I loved this book; I loved the movie.  I can still picture (in black and white) Gregory Peck portaying the consummate Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, wiping his brow in the hot, segregated courtroom while his adoring daughter Scout, looks on from the balcony.

Set in a small Southern town in Alabama during the Depression, the book follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their father, Atticus, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.  Thus, the book covers many issues, but because it is told through the eyes of young Scout, it never comes off as judgmental or preachy.

I could never understand why someone would not want others to read this book.  It won the Pulitzer Prise, it’s been translated into more than forty languages and was voted the best novel of the twentieth century.  If somehow you got through school without reading this book, now is the time to do so.  Come to think of it, it may be about time for me to read it again — it’s that good!

catcher-in-the-rye-coverCatcher in the Rye was a pivotal book  for me. It was one of the first books that I read that seemed to speak the Truth… about phoniness and superficiality and adult hypocrisy.

As a preteen, I didn’t probe into the actual copyright date; I thought it had just been written about my generation –  actually about ME specifically.

Up until that point, I’d mostly read series like Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew, both admirable but neither of whom were very introspective.

I remember sprawling on my bed for an entire Sunday afternoon – not being able to put the book down, yet not wanting to let my new soulmate, Holden Caulfield, out of my life, either.

David Ulin says in the LA Times, “We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.”

lovely bonesThe American Library Association (ALA) has designated September 26-October 3 as Banned Books Week in order to raise awareness of continuing threats against intellectual freedom. You may be surprised to find that even in this modern age of openess and equality, censorship remains a constant threat. Follow along with us this week as our librarians highlight their Favorite Banned Books.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is the heartbreaking story of a family struggling with the sudden and unexplained loss of their oldest daughter. Told from the perspective of the murdered daughter as she watches her family and friends from “the other side”, Susie narrates what happened to her (raped and murdered by the neighbor), agonizes as her parents and siblings mourn, and struggles to come to terms with what her own life on earth meant. There is a lot of sadness in this book, but there is also a great deal of celebration, joy and enduring love.

billofrightsThe Library Bill of Rights:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.

Did you know?

The Library Bill of Rights states the American Library Association’s policy on Intellectual Freedom and is based on a policy written by Forrest Spaulding, Director of the Des Moines Public Library, put into effect in his own library on November 21, 1938.  The ALA Council then modified the statement and adopted it as The Library Bill of Rights during the 1939 Annual Conference and has since been amended on multiple occasions as libraries continue to evolve with society and technology.

American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom. Intellectual freedom manual. ALA Editions, 2006. accessed via Google Books.

The Singing RevolutionEstonia is a tiny nation squeezed between the Baltic Sea and the former Soviet Union. For centuries they have been subject to occupation and used as a pawn by larger, more powerful nations. In 1920 they achieved independence and were thriving only to fall victim again to dictators – in 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a secret agreement that divided Europe between them. Shortly thereafter, Stalin invaded Estonia and brutally suppressed resistance.

This invasion was followed by more than 50 years of oppression, first by Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin again. Thousands of Estonians were killed or shipped to Siberia to work in the labor camps. The Estonian language was outlawed, thousands of Russians were moved to Estonia (called “russification”) to further dilute the native population and any hint of free thinking was swiftly and severely punished.

However, the Estonians refused to give up their culture or their national identity. One way was through singing – this tiny nation has one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world and singing clubs are very popular. A national song festival – “Laulupidu” – has been held every five years since 1894. The Soviets allowed this festival to continue, but required the singing of Soviet communist songs, sung in Russian. On one occasion the Estonians outsmarted their oppressors and spontaneously began singing traditional folk songs in Estonian. The band was ordered to play louder to drown out the singing, but massed voices were too loud.

As Soviet Russia began to crumble, Estonia pushed for more freedoms and independence. Throughout their struggle, singing became a uniting force, bringing people together countless times. The Estonian revolution remained bloodless and, when the USSR finally collapsed, Estonia emerged as an intact nation, united by their suffering but also by their joyous singing.

The Singing Revolution will leave you with a lump in your throat and goosebumps on your skin. It’s hard to believe that singing can stop tanks, but the Estonians did it again and again. The beautiful, lovingly produced documentary will remind you again of both the price of freedom and why it’s so precious.

Intellectual FreedomIt often surprises people that they can call (or email or IM) our reference desk and ask us virtually anything and we will do our utmost to find an answer.

Callers may be looking for facts or articles to support  liberal, conservative or libertarian points-of-view. They may want information about extraterrestrial life, Elvis Presley’s current whereabouts or the latest bills on gun control. We apply the same skills and methodology no matter what the topic.

The next time the tv or newspaper prompts a question in your mind, give us a call!

Okay, so I like to think I would defend our intellectual freedoms under desperate circumstances, but what if I was mysteriously kidnapped and dropped into an Utopian community? Yes, I lose my name and I cannot leave the city limits or this weird orb-like creature will eat me, but everyone is so happy and intelligent and beautiful.  All I have to do is stop asking questions and I could be content like them. And they have parades, like, everyday.

prisonerThis is the basic plot of The Prisoner–a 1960’s cult British program starring Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan plays an ex-British Government employee who wakes up to find himself in “The Village” with everyone calling him number Six. Unlike me, Six is not charmed by the pretty landscaping and golf cart rides; he spends all 17 episodes in a constant mind-battle with number Two while alternately trying to escape and find out who is number One. Just writing this blogpost, my brain has gone into overdrive remembering the mental exercise I received from watching this show: What freedoms do I have? What freedoms do I not have? What freedoms would I not realize were gone? What freedoms would I allow to be taken in order to be happy? Would I know the difference between freedom and the illusion of freedom? Ack! Thought-provoking television!

You’ve got several options on experiencing the Prisoner:

Be seeing you!

freedomSince 2004, libraries across the world have organized events about freedom and issues that matter to their communities during the month of September. This grassroots project favors free over fee, public over private, and voices over silence. This year, the Davenport Public Library is posting blogs relating to freedom and democracy, as well as hosting displays about these topics. For more information about the September Project, visit

One way libraries and librarians protect your freedom that you probably aren’t even aware of, is Collection Development. That’s a fancy librarian term for what we do every day – buy books (and movies and magazines and audio materials, etc ) But there’s something serious here too – the reference librarians work hard – including going to school and getting a Master’s Degree – to make sure that our collection is balanced and that it, within publishing and money constraints, has something for everyone.

Let’s say you’re an ardent vegetarian. Great! We have books on cooking for the vegetarian and the vegan, books on how to grow your own vegetables and books on the health benefits of this lifestyle. But we also have books about cooking meat and books about baking with sugar and butter. We have books that will appeal to various political parties and religious beliefs, books that cover nearly every opinion and belief with no favoritism for one or another.

Just one of the services your public library provides – upholding the ideals of the Constitution of the United States.

pay it forwardRemember the movie, Pay It Forward (2000) with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt?  The one in which the teacher (Spacey) encourages his students to make the world a better place?  By the way, in case you don’t know — as I didn’t — the movie is actually based on a book with the same title by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Anyway, in the book or the movie,  one of his students actually comes up with a plausible plan: to pay it forward.  In other words, if someone does you a kind deed, rather than paying it back, you pay it forward, to three new people.

Well, recently, my husband and I were recipients of a kind deed.  We were out shopping for replacement steps to our hot tub; after 16 years, its wooden stairs had finally disintegrated. We looked at building them ourselves (cost: $50 plus, not to mention time and effort).  Another store sold cedar steps for $100 — a bit pricey.  At our final stop, the salesperson was showing us floor samples in hard plastic.  Another customer spoke up and said, “I have three of those at home; if you want one, just follow me home and you can have one.”  At first, we weren’t certain he was serious and we didn’t want to appear cheap.  But even the sales guy offered, “Well, you can’t beat a deal like that!”  So, we followed him home, got the steps and offered to pay him.  His reply: “Just do something nice for someone else.”  Translation: pay it forward.

So, I’m still looking for ways to do just that.  Though I’m not quite ready to donate a kidney, I am hoping some random act of kindness will make itself blatantly obvious.  In the meantime, if you know of a need — please let me know.  I need to forward some payments.

south of broadI couldn’t wait to read South of Broad — Pat Conroy hasn’t written a novel in 14 years  — though he did write a memoir (My Losing Season) and a cookbook.   I was also curious about the Charleston, South Carolina connection.  In Charleston, south of Broad Street (S.O.B.) is teasingly differentiated from slightly north of Broad (SNOB) in reference to the upscale residents there.  None of the reviewers seemed to catch this obvious pun.  At any rate, I do have to agree with reviewer Chris Bohjalian, who stated, “Even though I felt stage-managed by Conroy’s heavy hand, I still turned the pages with relish.”  That’s how I felt, too.  The book definitely kept my interest but there were details that irritated me.  I questioned the likelihood of all those high school sweethearts actually marrying.  I was kept worrying about his brother’s suicide until the very end.  I found some of the dialogue forced.

Still — I’d rather have you form your own opinion, so here’s a short synopsis of the plot.  The book begins in the summer of 1969, just as the main character (Leopold Bloom King — yes, named after the character in Joyce’s Ulysses) is about to enter his senior year in high school.  After a miserable childhood, marked primarily by the unexpected suicide of his golden-boy brother, Leo becomes friends with an unlikely group which includes orphans, blacks, members of the socially elite and charismatic twins, Trevor and Sheba Poe.  Fast forward twenty years — Sheba is now a famous movie star and Trevor is wasting away with AIDS.  Sheba recruits this same group — still best friends — to find Trevor in San Francisco and bring him back home to Charleston.

In my opinion, this is not Conroy’s best work, but it’s one that many will still enjoy reading.