'A Good Library Has Something In It To Offend Everyone': Local Librarian Talks Banned Books

Oct 1, 2020

Banned Books Week was originally launched in 1982 and usually takes place during the last week of September.
Credit Maggie Nelson/KUCB

Every year books are challenged in libraries, bookstores, and schools by people who want to remove or restrict access to certain material. And in 1982, in response to these challenges and as a means to draw attention to the harms of censorship, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), along with the National Association of College Stores launched the first Banned Books Week.

Since then, people have been finding unique ways to celebrate the annual event. In Unalaska, City Librarian Karen Kresh said in past years, library staff and volunteers have put together displays of books locked up in cages; they've put together clues for the public to discover why the books have been banned; and read excerpts over the local radio station of some of their favorite books that have been challenged or banned. 

 


Kresh said she chose to read an excerpt from Slaughterhouse Five when she participated in reading banned books over the air in previous years. She said this novel is one of her favorites of Kurt Vonnegut's stories. 

"I [found] an excerpt from Slaughterhouse Five that I thought was meaningful,' said Kresh. "And that is a favorite book of mine. I think that he has a nice way with language that lends itself to reading out loud too." 

Kresh has been Unalaska's librarian since 2014. Before that she worked for the King County Library in Seattle. Kresh said that libraries—whether they are a part of a big city or rural Aleutian island—should be welcoming and inclusive. But, Kresh added, libraries should not be limited to a single person's perspective or preferences. 

In fact, according to Kresh, there used to be a sign hanging in the back room of Unalaska's library that read: "'A good library has something in it to offend everyone.'"

"Just the same way that everyone should be able to find something they love, everybody should probably be able to find something that offends them or bothers them in the library," said Kresh. "And that's just the nature of having a collection that is truly for the entire community, and doesn't just represent one viewpoint or one belief system."

Kresh said that when she's choosing a banned book to highlight or to read on air she's looking for something that's easily excerpted but also demonstrates how detrimental censorship can be.

"I'm also looking for literature that's beautiful, that's moving, and that I personally find meaningful, and that I'm excited to share with other people," said Kresh. "I think that highlights the loss that the whole community experiences in places where this material might be banned—from their school library or their public library—and then people wouldn't have access to it."

Kresh's approach to librarianship is multi-faceted. If you have ever seen Kresh read to kids, it's clear she has a natural talent and passion for literature and education. But the exuberance and cheerfulness Kresh projects during story time also evokes her avid commitment to equal and public access to information.

"Libraries are founded on the principle of the First Amendment and free speech and free access to information, which is kind of a corollary to the right to free speech," said Kresh. "So it's a good time to remind people that the library is an institution that's founded on these really lofty ideals and these American principles. It's not just a place to get some fun reading material."