Hunt for Freedom at SSU library celebrates the right to read

In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual weeklong celebration of the freedom to read all books, a new event called the Hunt for Freedom will be held Sept. 25 – 27 at Sonoma State University’s library.

The Hunt for Freedom, which is hosted by the library and the Center for Ethics, Law and Society, brings awareness to the dangers of censorship and emphasizes books that disrupt social norms, according to Joshua Glasgow, the center’s director.  

Over the course of this multi-day event, six envelopes containing descriptions of a banned or challenged book or CD will be hidden on the library’s second floor. 

Banned books are texts that have been completely restricted from the public, while challenged books are only reviewed for removal from libraries and school curriculum.

Glasgow said that once a student uses a description to correctly identify its book or CD, the envelope can be used to obtain a free copy of the corresponding item at the Center for Ethics, Law and Society office in Carson 56.

According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, the top three reasons that books are challenged include “sexually explicit” content, “offensive language,” or being “unsuited to any age group.” 

Many novels referred to as classics and are now used as texts in school curriculum have been challenged or banned in the past. Some examples include “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Lolita.”

The American Library Association composes a top ten list of the most challenged books each year. Among of the top ten list for 2016, five of the challenged books included LGBTQ characters.

In addition to “Hunt for Freedom,” the Center for Ethics, Law and Society will be hosting a talk entitled “Free Speech in the Trump Era” by Karl Olson, a Sonoma State graduate and attorney who specializes in media law. Olson will speak on Sept. 26 from 12:05 to 12:55 p.m. in Stevenson 1002. Madison Alpha, a fourth-year English literature major, said she feels that free speech is vital to America.

“It’s part of what makes us the United States,” Alpha said. “Without it, we wouldn’t truly be free.” 

Alpha has read number six on the 2016 list, John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” as well as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” one of Kurt Vonnegut’s challenged books. She said that “Looking for Alaska” “glorifies” smoking through its main character, and noted that “Slaughterhouse-Five” treats the topic of cheating nonchalantly which could upset those who are religious.

Jack Ritchie, the day supervisor for circulation at the library, initially worked as a student assistant starting in 1988. Ritchie said he has continued working for the library ever since and acquired a full-time position in 1993.

“One group shouldn’t be able to decide what another group reads,” Ritchie said.

While Ritchie said Sonoma State’s library has not had issues with banning books, he recalled hearing some complaints about a children’s book featuring two mothers and their daughter. 

“You should use these as teaching tools,” Ritchie said. “I strongly feel that we shouldn’t bow to the pressure of outside interest groups. We’re here to make material available.”