Rising Concerns Over Censorship as Libraries Ban Classic Books After Single Complaints

Rising Concerns Over Censorship as Libraries Ban Classic Books After Single Complaints

Recent actions by public libraries to ban certain books following individual complaints have sparked a heated debate about censorship and freedom of speech.

Experts are raising alarms about the potential dangers of this trend, which has seen classic literature removed from shelves due to concerns about offensive content.

The Books and Complaints

Among the banned books are Raymond Briggs’ “Fungus the Bogeyman,” Jules Verne’s “Five Weeks in a Balloon,” and Victor Appleton’s “Tom Swift” series.

These removals occurred after single complaints from library patrons, who found the content offensive or inappropriate.

A Freedom of Information analysis conducted by The Times revealed that at least 16 books have been pulled from shelves across 11 councils.

This growing trend of censorship has concerned many, including Louise Cooke, an emeritus professor of information and knowledge management at Loughborough University.

She warns that the increasing tendency to remove potentially offensive material is “massively” dangerous.

Specific Complaints and Actions

In Hertfordshire, a parent complained about the word “golliwog” in “Fungus the Bogeyman.” An internal email from the council expressed shock that such a word was still being printed in a 2012 edition, noting that many classic books from the 1970s have had offensive words removed in later editions.

Coventry Library Services removed “Five Weeks in a Balloon” after a customer complained about its “inappropriate and racist” language.

The internal correspondence highlighted the use of terms like “beastly n*****” as the reason for the complaint.

In Essex, “Three Monsters” by David McKee was pulled after a customer found the language divisive.

The contentious section included a monster shouting, “Clear off! We don’t want any funny foreigner types here.” McKee, known for addressing serious issues in his work, often conveyed messages about embracing differences, as seen in his famous “Elmer” books.

Professional and Institutional Reactions

Most libraries follow guidelines from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), which advises against censoring books unless their content is found to be unlawful. Jo Cornish, interim chief executive of CILIP, emphasized that the profession generally believes in providing access to material rather than banning it.

Cornish stated, “Our general view as a profession is that it’s better for the reader to have access to material, not proscribed by law, than it be banned.

As we make clear in our guidance, we are committed to opposing censorship unless there is a specific risk that providing access to a particular book would break the law or incite hatred or violence.”

Broader Implications and Official Responses

The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport also weighed in on the issue. A spokesperson highlighted the importance of freedom of speech, stating, “Freedom of speech is one of the core values that defines our society and we expect library collections to represent a variety of perspectives and topics.”

Despite these assurances, the removal of books due to individual complaints raises significant concerns. Out of the 16 banned books, eight were removed specifically for complaints regarding “divisive” or “racist” language.

This trend has sparked a broader conversation about the balance between maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment and upholding the principles of free expression.


The recent decisions by public libraries to ban certain books following individual complaints have highlighted a complex and contentious issue.

While the intention may be to protect readers from offensive content, the implications for freedom of speech and censorship are profound.

As this debate continues, it is essential to consider the broader consequences of such actions and strive to find a balance that respects both individual sensitivities and the fundamental right to access diverse perspectives and ideas.

TDPel Media

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