By: Allyson Mower
I run a book club at the library where I work and for September we are reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. It is a wonderful book! When we voted on it as our selection, I felt apprehensive about reading it because I thought I wouldn’t be able to understand it. But it is a very understandable book. The writing is clear and Hawking uses plain language to explain the topics. I might not understand the topics well enough to teach them to someone else, but I certainly understood the book enough to talk about it with others.
One concept that Hawking explores is the existence of God, which I found enlightening and refreshing. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone in case you want to read it for yourself, but his approach to the idea felt novel to me. I especially appreciated his discussion of God in context of the history of the study of physical sciences. This gave me greater perspective on how the universe works and how humans have attempted to understand it and themselves in it.
As we were selecting the book, I came across a news article sent to me by Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director of OIF about a school in Oregon that had banned the book along with nine other titles, including the dictionary, during the 2015-2016 school year https://theroguenews.com/19251/arts-enter/banned-books-at-ashland-high-school/
The reason listed next to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was “unethical context.”
I’m not certain what was meant by the use of the word ‘context,’ perhaps ‘content’ was meant instead? In any event, the judgement of unethical was also surprising because Hawking does not discuss human behavior other than humans thinking about and observing the natural world. If thinking about and/or observing the natural world is deemed to be unethical by a school, that is a problem, in my opinion. Maybe it had to do with Hawking’s discussion of God, which some might deem unethical. The book does not argue against the existence of God, only discusses the idea. So, again, banning a book in a school for exploring concepts and ideas is antithetical to the purpose of a school.
I don’t know what happened in response to the school banning these 10 titles, but I hope that the school’s librarian had something to say on the matter. And I truly hope that banning, as it tends to do, led to further curiosity about the books and got students reading (maybe that was even the point given the ban on the dictionary, which took it over the top).
Check out A Brief History of Time for yourself and you’ll soon Stand for the Banned!
Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.