Still Waters Run Deep

Libraries are never as placid as they appear.  They are often sources and centers of controversy and conflict.  The better they are, the more dangerous libraries can seem.”  –Siva Vaidhyanathan


As public institutions that strive to present a wide variety of materials on different experiences and perspectives, libraries often invite criticism and create controversy. This is particularly evident when books are banned, and the response is often unexpectedly strong but often quite effective.

In 2013 the Chicago Public School System banned the graphic novel “Persepolis” from all school classrooms and libraries due to a depiction of torture in revolutionary Iran. The teacher’s union called the move “Orwellian,” and pointed out that the only other place the book had been banned was in Iran. A student run book club, 451 Degrees, protested and CPS reversed its decision allowing the book to remain in classrooms and on library shelves.

Controversy continues to swirl around Marjane Satrapi’s novel. In 2013 it was banned in three more school districts and the following year it earned the #2 spot on the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books.  We should not be afraid of controversial and disruptive ideas, it is a far more dangerous omen when there is a lack of them.

*This was originally written for Library Week 2016.