A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Book Banning Bastards

Actually, I just liked the alliteration of the title-- I don't think there are any real bastards in this post, except maybe Jerry Allen, the idiot state legislator from Alabama. But for tc and Jack, I am apparently "too soft" on those that would ban books. Which I found interesting, since books effectively get "banned" from libraries all the time-- no library in the world, the Library of Congress included, can collect every book ever written, period. Libraries, which usually, but not always, means librarians, select books all the time-- and the ones we don't select are as effectively banned from that library as a book that was selected and subsequently had to be removed. Sad but true-- limited resources mean limited selection.

Of course, there are ways around this-- inter-library loan being the principle means. Your library doesn't have a particular book? No problem. Have your library borrow it from a library that does and then check it out to you. Problem solved. Except that the patron has to a)know about ILL and b) actually use it. But the ability to get virtually any book (with the exception of very rare and/or very fragile materials) to anybody, anywhere exists in today's world. Banned books included.

Banning a book is not the same as burning one, folks, nor does it lead down that ubiquitous slippery slope to book burning damnation for all the illiterate heathens in the world. Hopefully, your library system has a process to go through to review any book someone takes exception to, and, hopefully, that system includes as much community feedback as possible. But should, gasp, something be banned from your library it does not constitute "sacrificing" that material as tc implies. It merely makes it harder to get, not impossible. Is it unfortunate? Yes. Is it short sighted? Probably. Does it cater to the desires of the vocal minority over those of the silent majority? Quite likely. But it does not consign that book to purgatory or to flaming piles of published materials surrounded by half-witted, toothless yokels with nothing better to do than burn books. It does not even make it impossible for someone to access that book in that community.

It's a PUBLIC library folks. Librarians rassle with what to buy and what not to buy ALL the time, and, by our choices, we censor just as surely as any book banner out there. We just do it with more knowledge and a different perspective than those outside of our profession. And if a particular community does not want a particular book in their library, and can justify its exclusion with something more than 'We don't like that book', who has the right to say, 'No, we know better than all of you. This book is literature and your objections mean nothing to those of us that know what we're talking about'?

Actual banning of books is fairly rare, fortunately, as usually some sort of compromise can be reached. The book is held behind the desk, or moved from the children's section to the adult section, or some such. And, believe me, when a protest against a particular book does occur, the librarians at that library will be strong advocates for the retention of the book. Additionally, even if a book does get the boot, there is nothing that says that it can't be reviewed again at a later date for reinclusion into the library.

The main reason the idiot in Alabama is, well, an idiot, is threefold (at a minimum): 1) His ban is far too broad, geographically, 2)his ban is far too all encompassing in its dimensions, and 3)his ban is nearly completely unreviewable as it has the force of law behind it, rather than just the disgruntlement of vocal portion of a particular community. As I say, he's an idiot, and the other members of congress in Alabama, thankfully, clearly realized that.

So, to tc and Jack, I feel a need to say, "Chill." Taking a book out of a library is not an "obscenity." Idiots who think the magic in the Harry Potter books could be bad for kids have just as much a right to their opinion as you have to yours, though hopefully your arguments for the retention of the books will be of superior quality to their arguments for their removal. And blaming "the great, white, republican, myopic county of Ozaukee" for the removal of materials does little except make you feel good about being so progressive and enlightened in your views. Well, I suppose it does help entrench the believe in those who disagree with you that you are nothing more than an elitist snob with no connection to the real world. Neither portrayal is accurate, and neither serves any constructive purpose except to make the individuals feel superior about their own particular perspective.

A few other notes about the Snow Falling on Cedars case up in Ozaukee. The objection was not to the book being in the library, it was to its being on a mandatory reading list for an upper-level high school English course. An important distinction-- it is one thing to object to a book being in a library because someone might read it, and something quite different to object to a book being in a curriculum that a student has to read. Additionally, the book was not removed from that curriculum, but rather, made an optional part of the reading list for the class. A compromise that probably left neither the parents nor the teachers completely happy and was therefore the best conclusion that could be reached under the circumstances.

And do we really want parents to have no input into their children's curriculum? No ability to make their objections to something being taught known to the school's administration or school board? For a thoughtful look at the Ozaukee situation, I suggest reading Mike Nichols' take on it from February's Journal Sentinel.
That's a reasonable and well-thought out position on this issue, Nick. Not every book can be in every library, there are standards applied to what is collected. (Even if the standards are imposed by limited resources, they are still standards.)

And since standards do and must exist, then as an everyday citizen, I'm going to attempt to influence the standards to my liking. That's called "community involvement". Anyone who doesn't like my standards had best find the time for community involvement of their own.

If I had my way, I'd replace every romance book and every book by anyone named Clinton with comic books. Let's just be honest about what level those books are on.

And any book about anything gay or lesbian would be placed in a dark room with no windows and locks on the doors. Tiny rooms, where there are racks for hanging clothing.

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