Friday, October 2, 2009

Banned Books Week

Did you have a good Banned Books Week?

Did you get a chance to see Ellen Hopkins' Manifesto poster? It's very moving, especially if you consider her struggles with challenges to her own books which deal explicitly with tough issues. (see: Crank, Glass, Tricks, eg)

However, Joe posted a great link over on the Professional Development blog that I'm stealing for here! The Wall Street Journal writes, Finding Censorship Where There is None, and asks, "Why do parents' public petitions constitute censorship, while librarians' hidden verdicts do not?"

Are you ready? Here's a response to the WSJ article, from the blog Creative Anomalies. They tackle why the parents' petitions to remove books are considered censorship: "Parents may determine what their own children read, but they do not now and never have had the ability to make the choice for any other parent."

But the CA post doesn't address that "hidden verdict" issue. The truth is that some librarians, being human beings and all, do have biases and sometimes do use selection policies consciously or unconsciously to keep certain books out of their collections. And yes, WSJ, when that happens, they are censors too. But the truth is also that many librarians are actively working to put all kinds of books ONTO their shelves, while working within constraints of budget and space and also respond to their specific community's needs.

If you've never read the classic "Not Censorship but Selection" by Lester Asheim, or if (like me) you haven't read it for years, it's worth the time. He says,
The aim of the selector is to promote reading, not to inhibit it; to multiply the points of view which will find expression, not limit them; to be a channel for communication, not a bar against it. In a sense, perhaps, it could be said that the librarian is interfering with the freedom to read whenever he fails to make some book available. But viewed realistically, the librarian is promoting the freedom to read by making as accessible as possible as many things as he can, and his selection is more likely to be in the direction of stimulating controversy and introducing innovation than in suppressing the new and perpetuating the stereotype.

Happy Banned Books Week!


Betsy said...

Do you know Brandon's mom? She was in the other day and asked me why, if books, are "banned", we have them in the library (under our "Banned Books" sign). That seemed like a funny question but as she is from another country/culture, it is probably not as funny as it should be...I hope she understood my answer that included references to the First Amendment and librarians' efforts to provide materials so that the individual may choose what to read.

Melissa said...

Good for you, Betsy! She's certainly not the only one who has this question.