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SIUC’s Banned Books Week events feature readings, “Freedom of the Press” collection

McCoy collection: Several books from Morris Library’s Freedom of the Press collection, established by the library’s first director, Ralph E. McCoy, are part of the library’s Banned Books Week, Oct. 2-6. (Photo by Russell Bailey)


A community read-in, panel discussion and a presentation on First Amendment freedoms are the focal points as Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library recognizes Banned Books Week Oct. 2-6.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Morris Library, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Carbondale Public Library will hold a community read-in and panel discussion from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the rotunda adjacent to the John C. Guyon Auditorium as part of the ACLU of Illinois’ statewide Banned Books Week.  On Friday, Oct. 6, from noon to 1 p.m., Aaron Lisec, a research specialist with Morris Library’s Special Collections Research Center, will hold a presentation on the library’s McCoy press freedom collection in the library’s Hall of Presidents and Chancellors. The events are free and open to the public.

“We hope that the audience will think more deeply about their hard won right to freedom of speech and freedom to follow their curiosity wherever it leads,” said John Pollitz, dean of library affairs at SIU Carbondale. “We hope they learn more about the resources available to them in the Special Collections Research Center and our history in supporting the right to free speech.”

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since the organization began compiling data more than 20 years ago, Pollitz said, and book challenges are up 16% between January and August 2023, compared to the same period a year ago. In Illinois, there were 43 documented attempts to restrict access directed at 69 unique titles, with the most challenged being the 2019 book “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

“Teachers and librarians regularly face challenges to the books they assign in the classroom or have in their collections,” Pollitz said. “Public university libraries have less exposure to these challenges as they are expected to represent all sides of topics.”

Gov. JB Pritzker in June signed legislation that made Illinois the first state in the nation to outlaw book bans. Pollitz said Morris Library has incorporated the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights into its mission statement.

Readings, discussion highlight Oct. 2 program

During the read-in, organizers will discuss book banning and censorship challenges in Illinois and across the country, read from favorite banned books and share resources on speaking at public forums.

Jennifer Horton, associate dean in SIU’s Library Affairs; Kevin Fee, the ACLU of Illinois special counsel; Jennifer Robertson, Carbondale Public Library director, and Ed Yohnka, ACLU of Illinois director of communications and public policy, will discuss the importance of engaging around ideas of censorship.

SIU Carbondale is hosting one of the five read-ins around the state. Pre-registration is encouraged but not required.

McCoy collection featured on Oct. 6

Lisec will discuss the history of Morris Library’s Freedom of the Press collection, established by the library’s first director and journalism professor, Ralph E. McCoy. The collection, housed in the Special Collections Research Center, consists of thousands of books, pamphlets, manuscripts and letters that document the history of censorship in the English-speaking world over the last four centuries. Recent additions to the collection include an emphasis on books that have been banned or challenged, said Anne Marie Hamilton-Brehm, associate dean of library affairs.

Lisec will also discuss how McCoy established the banned book collection “and why it was vital to preserve challenged books then as it is now,” Hamilton-Brehm said.

Books from the collection will be on display in glass cases.

Morris Library, opened in 1956, is SIU’s sixth library dating back to the university’s charter in 1869. The library purchased McCoy’s renowned collection in 1981 during Morris Library’s 25th anniversary.

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