Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Little Bit of Censorship

I'm going to be blunt:  I am a huge supporter of a person's right to access materials and information in the library.  I believe in intellectual freedom.  I absolutely seethe when I see reports of and stories about individuals and groups leading campaigns to get books or materials banned/removed from school and public libraries.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, it's guaranteed by the First Amendment, even those who are narrow-minded enough to think that we need to rewrite classics like Tom Sawyer or shouldn't have books for gay teens on our shelves.  But do keep your opinions off my library books.  You should not and cannot dictate what others are interested in and should read.  If you don't want your child reading a specific book, then talk to them about what is appropriate material for your family.  Don't push your views on other people. 

The library is a place for all.

There was a fantastic article in School Library Journal by Debra Lau Whelan about self-censorship, that thing librarians do when they're afraid a book might get challenged so they don't order it for their collection, or if they do, they hide it in the stacks so it's virtually impossible to find.  It's an amazing look at the fear even the word censorship brings up in our field, and I highly recommend it.  We should not be afraid of a book's power to make people think outside their own little boxes - we should be encouraging freedom of thought and expression.

A Dirty Little Secret:  Self-Censorship

That being said, I have come across some astoundingly narrow-minded people in my MLS classes.  I don't know what is it, but it's been a little shocking to see how many potential "librarians" believe a little censorship is okay.  This should be rather obvious, but censorship is never okay.  The ALA tells us that, and no matter your opinion on the all-mighty ALA and it's Code of Ethics and whatnot (yes, I am a member, no I don't always agree with them!), they have a point in my opinion.  Censorship is a very, very slippery slope - once that first book gets pulled, what stops us from pulling content that offends everyone else?  There have been some rather passionate debates about censorship in my MLS classes (I'm an online student, so I don't actually sit in a classroom and debate with people in person).  One student actually said she believed libraries had a duty to protect children from harmful material and if her child brought a book home from the library, school or public, that she didn't agree with, she would have no problems challenging that book.

I asked her two questions:  What books, in your mind, are appropriate for everyone to read?  Why is it the job of the library and librarians to parent your child?

Oddly enough, she never responded back to me.  A few other people in the class who knew what they were talking about also jumped on her and she never responded to them, either.  I can understand ignorance of this pillar of our field if you truly are new to librarianship, but get yourself educated.  That's what you're doing in an MLS class, right?  Acknowledge you were wrong and learn from the experience.  And understand this:  as a librarian, my job, my calling is to help you find what you're looking for, whether it's information, education, or entertainment.  I am not your child's keeper.  I am not a babysitter, parent, or caregiver.  I am, however, one of the best people they can come to for completely unabashed access to anything they want to know, because all they have to do is ask.  I will not flinch if they ask me for information on anything from jellybeans to human reproduction.  Chances are, we have a book on it.

And if not, I can always just Google it, right?