PEPPERELL -- "Caution: Some people consider these books dangerous," read the sign propped in front of the row of books ranging from "The Canterbury Tales" to Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends," locked in cages like circus animals.
The set-up was part of a central exhibit at a 1982 publisher's conference and represented the thousands of books that have been challenged and banned from the shelves of libraries over the course of centuries. Since then, the American Library Association has taken the idea and run with it. Years later, group is celebrating the 30th birthday of Banned Books Week Sept. 30 through Oct. 6 and promoting the "right to read."
"Ever since (the conference, Banned Books Week) has grown into a national advocacy campaign about raising awareness that censorship does still happen this country," said ALA spokesperson Angela Maycock
"It's something we need to continue to be concerned about and talk about. The best way to protect our freedoms, our right to read and what to choose, is to stand up and speak about these issues."
The Lawrence Library in Pepperell is helping to promote the campaign.
"We want to inform people that this is going on," said the library's assistant director, Tina McEvoy. "We're firmly behind the freedom of people to choose what they want to read."
McEvoy said the library has several activities planned.
"We always do displays that highlight books that have been banned or challenged and we always have information on what the controversy was," she said. "We've thought about people doing a read-out, have people doing readings of excerpts on books that have been banned or challenged."
The read-outs are not exclusive to Pepperell, nor are they exclusive to being held on a library premises. For last couple of years, said Maycock, the ALA has been hosting virtual read-outs.
"Last year, I think over 800 people uploaded videos of themselves reading 'Huckleberry Finn' or 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or whatever their favorite book was," she said.
Regardless of the activities, the primary goal of the week is to bring awareness to the fact that a variety books are still being regularly challenged.
"Usually what I try to do ... is to pull out (books) where I know people would say, 'I can't imagine what the challenge would be for this book,' to get people thinking," said McEvoy.
Although McEvoy said that challenges are few and far between at the Lawrence Library, there have been several instances of libraries nationwide dealing with challenges to their shelves from displeased patrons, she said. Harry Potter made the national list for promoting witchcraft. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was pulled off of the shelves of a school library in California for listing and defining terms such as "sex" and "oral sex."
Of "Where the Sidewalk Ends," a book of children's poems, Maycock said, "There are people, often parents, that have complained that messages in those poems encourage disrespect to adults."
Each year, the ALA releases a list of the top 10 nationally challenged books during that year, and the list spans centuries, subject matter and readership.
"Different things are surprising to different people. Often people are surprised that books we think of as classics continue to cause controversy," said Maycock. "'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Brave, New World' are on it every year."
Ironically, the publicity that comes from challenges and bans merely serves to increase readership of the book in question.
"Absolutely every time there's a new story about a challenged book, all the copies in the library system are checked out," said McEvoy.
Although the ALA rarely handles complaints directly, they assist in educating libraries on how to handle the process when such issues arise.
"We strongly advise libraries to have, as part of their selection policy, also a reconsideration policy as an avenue so if someone does have a concern or complaint, there's a clear procedure for dealing with it so the person can voice it and feel that they've been heard, and the library can give due consideration and respond in a professional way," said Maycock.
Maycock said the point of Banned Books Week isn't whether someone is right or wrong in their selection of books; it is about allowing readers to make that decision for themselves.