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Book Banning in 21st-Century America

Emily J. M. Knox

Requests for the removal, relocation, and restriction of books—also known as challenges—occur with some frequency in the United States. Book Banning in 21st-Century American Libraries, based on thirteen contemporary book challenge cases in schools and public libraries across the United States argues that understanding contemporary reading practices, especially interpretive strategies, is vital to understanding why people attempt to censor books in schools and public libraries.

Previous research on censorship tends to focus on legal frameworks centered on Supreme Court cases, historical case studies, and bibliographies of texts that are targeted for removal or relocation and is often concerned with how censorship occurs. The current project, on the other hand, is focused on the why of censorship and posits that many censorship behaviors and practices, such as challenging books, are intimately tied to the how one understands the practice of reading and its effects on character development and behavior. It discusses reading as a social practice that has changed over time and encompasses different physical modalities and interpretive strategies. In order to understand why people challenge books, it presents a model of how the practice of reading is understood by challengers including “what it means” to read a text, and especially how one constructs the idea of “appropriate” reading materials.
The book is based on three different kinds sources. The first consists of documents including requests for reconsideration and letters, obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests to governing bodies, produced in the course of challenge cases. Recordings of book challenge public hearings constitute the second source of data. Finally, the third source of data is interviews with challengers themselves.

The book offers a model of the reading practices of challengers. It demonstrates that challengers are particularly influenced by what might be called a literal “common sense” orientation to text wherein there is little room for polysemic interpretation (multiple meanings for text). That is, the meaning of texts is always clear and there is only one avenue for interpretation. This common sense interpretive strategy is coupled with what Cathy Davidson calls “undisciplined imagination” wherein the reader is unable to maintain distance between the events in a text and his or her own response. These reading practices broaden our understanding of why people attempt to censor books in public institutions.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 186Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-3167-2 • Hardback • January 2015 • $74.00 • (£49.95)
978-1-4422-3168-9 • eBook • January 2015 • $72.99 • (£49.95)
Emily Knox is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include intellectual freedom and censorship, information ethics and policy, and print culture and reading practices.
Chapter 1: Trusting the System
Chapter 2: Power and Knowledge
Chapter 3: Perfect Timing
Chapter 4: Moral decline
Chapter 5: Reading Should Edify the Soul
Chapter 6: Fear, Knowledge and Power
Appendix 1: Methodological Note
Appendix 1.1: General Google Alerts
Appendix 1.2: Case Specific Google Alerts
Appendix 2: Sample Request for Reconsideration
Appendix 3: Chart of Challenge Cases
Emily Knox's book will prove to be important for those striving to understand challengers of books in school and public libraries. By taking their words seriously and situating them in useful theoretical frameworks, she provides a handle by which to grasp their world views. Knox's work adds not only to the scholarship on reading but also to the professional toolkit of librarians.
Louise S. Robbins, Professor Emerita, School of Library and Information Studies University of Wisconsin-Madison

Emily Knox has already gained a national reputation for her expertise in this area of scholarship. This book will be a crucial addition to our knowledge of how censorship "works" in this century.
Barbara M. Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom