The Richter Library teems with books no person under the constraints of a normal human lifespan will ever have time to read. Among these, one can reasonably expect to find, should you undertake to do so, classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Surely such books are the building blocks of every library.
But in many places, these books are banned.
Since 1990, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has recorded, according to its website, more than 10,000 book challenges. These challenges are “formal, written complaint[s] requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum.”
In other words, these challenges are not merely individuals expressing their viewpoints; they signify a concerted effort to limit access to certain information, and to undermine the freedom of speech that the Constitution has now guaranteed for more than 200 years.
What can you do to help defend this right? Simple: exercise it.
The UM library system contains, according to the UM Libraries website, more than 3.5 million volumes and thousands of CDs/DVDs and serials, in subjects ranging from chess, to fluid dynamics, to art history, to Scandinavian literature, to animal husbandry. The collection is constantly increasing; in the week of September 14-20 alone, the library added more than 100 new items.
Yet in 2010-2011, only 138,197 of these 3.5 million items were checked out.
Most of us, forgetting that the library is more than a massive study area cluttered with bookshelves, charge through the turnstiles fixated only on locating a table to camp out and do homework. Plugging in our electronic devices, spreading out our textbooks and loose-leaf paper, we fill the space with material we bring into the library ourselves.
But when was the last time you took something out of the library?
The access to information is one of the most vital resources the university provides, and Banned Books Week underlines how fortunate we are to have such access – and how we should do more to appreciate it.
So the next time you’re at Richter, hop up to the stacks. Visit the Special Collections. Try to locate the oldest book on each floor. See if you can find a book with a handwritten note in it. Leave your own handwritten notes for others to find. There are plenty of ways to appreciate books that don’t involve poring for hours over a massive tome.
Because that’s what it really comes down to: the active exercise of the right we so proudly lay claim to. To strike a blow against censorship, we need to wield the sword, not just let it sit around, gathering dust.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.