Banned from the Library

This week, libraries across the country are celebrating Banned Books Week (September 25 – October 1) which honors the freedom to read. Hundreds of books are challenged or removed from the collections of libraries and schools across the United States every year. In 2014, the American Library Association documented at least 311 cases of books being challenged, and estimates that between 70-80% of challenges are never reported.

You don’t have to look hard to find banned books in the Special Collections Research Center. On the shelves of the SCRC, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway sits next to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. Both have been challenged, and remain important pieces of literature as well as records of American history. These classics help faculty, students, and researchers learn more about our history.

Highlighted here are two notable examples of banned and challenged books found in Special Collections Research Center.

First, a peek at an 1852 copy of the abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

An 1852 illustrated edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

An 1852 illustrated edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

In her “Preface” Stowe writes, “Good books, like good actions, best explain themselves; they most effectually storm both heart and head, their virtues drape them with greatest dignity, the less they are cumbered by eulogistic comment.”

Frontispiece from the 1852 illustrated edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Frontispiece and title page from the 1852 illustrated edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

With its marbled cover and leather binding, this 1852 edition looks innocuous. But for over 100 years, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been challenged or banned because of its contextual, historically accurate depiction of slavery in the United States. It is also seen as popularizing stereotypes.

The Special Collections Research Center also holds a first edition of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Front cover of Beloved by Toni Morrison

Front cover of Beloved by Toni Morrison

A discussion on Banned Books that Shaped America says “Again and again, this Pulitzer-prize winning novel by perhaps the most influential African-American writer of all time is assigned to high school English students. And again and again, parental complaints are lodged against the book because of its violence, sexual content and discussion of bestiality.”

You can find these “banned” books and many others by searching the catalog on our website.

For more information or to view these books, visit the Special Collections Research Center in Fenwick Library 2400.