Above: The American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week traces its founding to librarian and free speech advocate Judith Krug, AM’64. Below, top: Portrait of Krug. (Image and photo courtesy of the American Library Association)
The importance of “sleazy trash”
Banned Books Week and the legacy of librarian Judith Krug, AM’64.
It’s Banned Books Week, when bookstores and libraries host events and proudly display the titles most often challenged as being too obscene, offensive, or subversive to be on the shelves. Banned Books Week was cofounded and championed by Judith Krug, AM’64 (1940–2009), an alumna of University’s Graduate Library School. By the time the first weeklong event was held in 1982, Krug had been fighting censorship in libraries for more than 15 years. Dedicating an entire week to highlighting banned books is a “chance to say to the American public, we have wonderful freedoms that are guaranteed to us in our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” Krug once told CSPAN. “And two of the most important ones are freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But they are very fragile, and if you don’t use them, you really stand a chance that somebody’s going to take them away.” A lifelong opponent of censorship, Krug joined the American Library Association in 1965. In 1967 she was appointed the first director of its Office for Intellectual Freedom, which supports libraries and librarians in providing free, open access to patrons. In 1969 she became executive director of the ALA’s legal and educational support arm, the Freedom to Read Foundation. Krug was a major figure in several free speech cases that reached the Supreme Court, and in the early 2000s challenged numerous laws that sought to censor the internet. Krug made a point of not letting her personal feelings about a work influence her duties as a librarian. She found the John Birch Society’s The Blue Book offensive but helped ensure it remained on library shelves. In 1992 she told the Chicago Tribune that Madonna’s book Sex was “sleazy trash, but it should be in every medium-sized library in the United States.”