On an early fall day as a cool breeze bristled the leaves and the grinding sounds of construction echoed across the courtyard in front of Manning Hall, volunteers from the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) and the Coalition of Youth Librarians (COYL) read excerpts from banned books as part of UNC’s 9th First Amendment Day celebration.
SILS Dean Gary Marchionini opened the event with a reading from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was challenged in 2016 as a summer reading assignment in the Knoxville, Tenn., high school system because a parent claimed the nonfiction book had “too much graphic information."
Skloot’s book was one of many read during the afternoon event on Sept. 26. The list ranged from classics like Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls to recent children’s books like King and King by Linda de Haan.
Erin Gallagher, a second year Master of Science in Information Science (MSIS) student, attended the readings and said she thinks they’re about, “the importance of being able to choose what you read.”
One of the event coordinators, COYL President Jim Curry, said that making sure all viewpoints are represented in literature is crucial.
“From children and teen perspectives, it’s important to have events creating a dialogue that says every perspective is valued and valid,” Curry said. “If we create dialogue that’s healthy and can discuss why this book is written, we can set the tone for future generations…we can expand other people’s world views and help kids and teens find texts they can find themselves in.”
Leah Epting, a first-year MSIS student, chose to read from Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Epting said events like this are crucial to understanding why books are challenged in the first place.
“It comes back to the marginalization of minority groups,” Epting said.
Casey Rawson, a post-doc at SILS, agreed with Epting, adding that it’s especially important for librarians because, “libraries have a long history of supporting [freedom of speech and freedom of the press], so we’re on the frontlines for protecting them.”
COYL coordinates this event annually with help from its co-sponsor, the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy, to explore and celebrate the role of the First Amendment at Carolina. For more information on the event, visit firstamendmentday.unc.edu.
-Story by Chrissy Murphy, SILS Communications Assistant