The Greeks tried to suppress Homer in 387 B.C., Californians hurled "Tarzan" from the Los Angeles library in 1929, and Alabamians banned "Doris Day: Her Own Story" from two Alabama schools this year. The Montgomery County library, however, has them all, and is proudly putting them on display Saturday to kick off national Banned Books Week.
Some of the books have been attacked for political views, others on grounds of language, religion, and social or sexual attitudes. "Not only are the books here, but they are beaten to shreds" from heavy use, says Jane Hirsch, adult services coordinator for the county library. "We are proud of the way we do it."
The display, she said, "shows that a library isn't only a place where you read mysteries and find out the four causes of the Civil War," but a place where people can seek all kinds of information and points of view.
Banned Book Week was initiated last year by the American Library Association. This year, cosponsors also include the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the National Association of College Stores. The event is endorsed by the Library of Congress's Center for the Book.
Many area stores and libraries, including the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in the District and several Fairfax County libraries, will display books that have been banned or challenged, pulled from their regular collections.
The idea, says Robert Doyle of the American Library Association, is to "alert people that censorship has occurred in the past and is occurring today."
People learn something, Doyle said, when they discover that books they have read have been considered dangerous or offensive by others. Edgar Rice Burrough's "Tarzan", for instance, was removed from the Los Angeles Public Library in 1929 because Tarzan allegedly lived in sin with Jane, according to American Library Association listings. Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" has been banned in China because "animals should not use human language and it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level."
In the Rockville library, a biography of Doris Day which describes unpleasant marital experiences is prominently displayed. Removed from two Alabama high schools last year because of its "shocking" contents, especially "in light of Miss Day's All-American image," according to the library association, it was later put back on the shelves on a "restricted basis."
Several books by children's author Judy Blume appear on currently banned and restricted lists. One, "Blubber," dealing with the torments of an overweight girl, was removed from Montgomery County elementary school libraries in 1980, but is on display in the Rockville library.
Doyle, of the American Library Association, estimates that about three-quarters of the efforts to have books banned take place in schools. Such efforts increased briefly three years ago across the country following the election of President Reagan, he said, but have declined since.
Book-banning efforts can affect the entire publishing industry, says Richard P. Kleeman, senior vice-president of the Association of American Publishers. He says, for example, that a New York State law forbidding books showing minors in sexually explicit poses, "practically banned nationwide" a sex education book called "Show Me." The law was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kris McGough, a Columbia, Md., woman well-known to publishers and educators for her conservative points of view, said Banned Books Week is "unhelpful. All it's doing is pitting parent against parent, parent against educator."
Fran Dean, director of instructional resources for Montgomery County schools, and a former member of the library association's Committee on Intellectual Freedom, says the process of debating the merits of a book is largely healthy. Protests show that parents are interested and concerned with what their children read in school, she adds, and the end result "is a better selection" of books in schools.