This is a digital library of books that have been banned or challenged. Each of these books was banned for at least one reason, although many have been banned or challenged for several different issues. It isn’t just schools that have challenged the validity of these books being on library shelves—in many cases, it has been a community, school district, or other group questioning whether children and teenagers should be reading these works. Some of the challenges were successful, and the books were banned and taken off the shelves for a period of time.
We included a wide variety of books in our collection, which encompasses adult and children’s literature, as well as different genres within those categories. We wanted to show the wide spectrum of books, many of them popular and respected works of literature, that have been challenged throughout history and, in many cases, continue to be challenged today. There are books that were published in the 1920s along with books that were published only a few years ago. Basically, we wanted to get the point across that any book can be challenged no matter what the decade or what its subject matter—or even if it is considered part of the canon of classic literature.
The reasons for challenging and banning are as broad as the titles in our collection. They range from illustrations, views of the authors, and obscene language to perceived racism, obscenity, and inappropriate subject matter.
We chose to display our bibliographic metadata in Dublin Core format. We felt it was the best way to show each book’s information in a way that allows all viewers of our digital library to be able to read and understand it. Every entry in Dublin Core is clearly identified and simply laid out, so there’s no mistaking what the information is, and we thought this format lent itself best to web pages. It provided us with a good way to give the creator, publishing information, subject headings, and a description along with other information that might of value to others, like the ISBN. Underneath the Dublin Core metadata, we each wrote a brief paragraph explaining the book, the reasons it was challenged/banned, and in some cases where it was challenged/banned. All of that information is cited, so if viewers want to, they can check the original source and get more information.
After deciding on Dublin Core, we also used LCSH subject headings for each book, then tagged our posts with shorter versions of those headings. This way, anyone searching for certain subjects will be able to find the books that match, and anyone browsing the tag cloud will be able to see how many times different subjects occur in the collection.
Since this is a digital collection of physical books, we also decided to use titles available on Amazon as our “model” books. Not every book in the collection is available for free on sites like Project Gutenberg, so we couldn’t provide digital versions of the books for users to read. However, we thought that using Amazon titles was a good compromise, since this allowed us to use bibliographic information for a specific copy of each book and provide a link to that existing copy. This way, viewers can both see an image of the books and read a sample. When available, we included the Library of Congress information for the original first editions of each book in case users of the site want to know exactly when they were published.
Our banned books digital library is best searched using the index, although if someone is already familiar with our digital library or is curious whether we have a specific book or author, we do have a search option. In the index, we have all of our books listed by both title and the author. We chose these as our main form of index since most people search for books by author; in addition, this is a small, specialized collection, so indexing the books by title provides a quick and easy way for people to see the entire collection at once, as well as browse within the index. All of the books are divided into a genre that can be found in the index, as well.
We chose to use tags to show the reasons why books were challenged or banned. Some tags also use words that describe the book, like a time period or keywords that might be popular in a search (for example, “The Grapes of Wrath” was tagged with the word “Okies”). When we first started, we intended to use the authors and titles as tags, too, but found this to be too much. There were an extreme amount of tags and it wasn’t conducive to using them as a browse feature. We decided to eliminate the author and title tags since we have already them indexed. The tags are a good way to browse and see why a book was challenged/banned.
Overall, creating this collection was an interesting experience. We had to figure out how to represent physical books in a digital collection and then decide how best to tag, label, and categorize those books. While we hit a few snags (being uncertain of how to show each book, initially using too many tags, and having a few issues with WordPress running slowly and showing error messages), we hope that in the end, our resulting digital library is organized, easy to use, and a good resource for investigating banned books.