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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Public Library celebrates banned books

This week, visitors to the library will receive a limited edition trading card designed by a local artist as part of Banned Books Week. Each card features a different banned book with information about why the book is banned.

Library director Susan Brown began the trading card project at a library in Kansas.

“I was a little bit bored with Banned Books Week,” Brown said. “It’s a really compelling message, but every year they do posters and book displays and programs.”

Brown launched the program in Chapel Hill in 2013. Artists were asked to submit pieces inspired by a banned book or author — the top seven were made into cards.

“It really works for a town like Chapel Hill because there are a lot of great artists here, and it’s a progressive college town, so the message of intellectual freedom resonates,” she said.

The finalists were chosen by a panel including Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and members of the local arts community.

This year, the contest drew 73 entries, a two-fold increase from last year. Reference librarian Shannon Bailey said the trading cards have garnered international attention.

“We’ve been selling them in South Africa — people have been ordering last year’s (cards) — Canada and all over the world,” Bailey said.

Bailey said books get banned for a variety of reasons. She gave the example of “Black Beauty,” a children’s book about a horse.

“It had actually been banned in South Africa at one point because a South African politician who had never read the book thought it was a pro-civil rights and anti-apartheid book, so he banned it based on the title,” Bailey said.

Between 2000 and 2009, more than 5,000 books were challenged in the U.S.

“I don’t think people realize it’s still happening. Randolph County — last year — banned ‘The Invisible Man.’ That was in North Carolina, not too far from here,” Bailey said.

Chapel Hill resident Jolmar Miller has won the contest two years in a row with pieces that feature authors Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Miller said African American literature wasn’t offered to her as a child.

“When I started reading it, I felt this immediate sense of gratification. Someone heard my voice, they recognized me as a person, and I hadn’t had that before,” said Miller.

As a mother, Miller said she understands why parents wouldn’t want their children exposed to certain things.

“However, I also think in the grand scheme of things these books should be out here. Once we start banning something, once we start censoring something, where do we draw the line on what can or cannot be censored?” she said.

Bailey said banning books can be counterintuitive.

“If a teenager is told they’re not supposed to do something, they’re going to want to read it. It gets kids excited about books, which is pretty cool.”

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