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Friday, August 14, 2009

Censorship in the Library - Burn that Book!

A friend's Twitter post triggered a chain of thought on censorship in public libraries. I was on our community library board for four years. I've worked closely with the grade school librarian where my children attend school. I have a whole bunch of my own kids. It's interesting how the whole censorship thing works.

At the public library level, I found the choice of books people objected to very intriguing. They weren't objecting to the romance novels that bordered on outright porn. Nope. The books filled with profanity didn't make the list, either. They objected to books that portrayed Mormons in an unflattering way (I live in a predominantly Mormon community). The librarian explained her dilemma. The library is funded with public money, therefore, it should reflect the community's interests and values. But, libraries are also places that value freedom of thought and expression and are forbidden to practice censorship. Her solution? Pull the offending book for a month or two with a promise to the patron to review it for objectionable material, then after a few weeks, quietly slip the book back onto the shelf for circulation again.

At the school library, it was similar situation but a lot more volatile. We're talking about people's offspring and their tender little minds. One year, the librarian had a whole mob of very vocal parents objecting to Harry Potter, anything Star Wars, Animorphs, and a whole string of other popular children's books. The main complaint was that the books promoted witchcraft and a belief in "magic". I found it interesting that the books they wanted pulled were all science fiction and fantasy titles. Goosebumps were fine. The librarian knew how popular the books were and didn't want to create a scandal. If she refused, which was completely within her rights and job description, the parents would create a massive media scandal. If she complied, she could lose her job. She opted to create a waiver for parents to sign before their children were allowed to check out the unsavory books. Guess who was first in line to sign? Me.

I strongly believe in freedom. What I value may not be what my neighbor values. My right to read what I choose is just as valid as theirs. Public libraries, school or community, do not have the right to censor my choices. It ultimately is up to me to censor what I read. I do practice censorship with my kids, as is my right as their parent. There are books that I don't want them to read for a variety of reasons. Once they are out of my house, they can choose to read them if they want.

That is the beauty of our country. No one can dictate what we are allowed to read. Everyone has a right to their opinion and the option to air it. But no one has the right to force their opinions and values on me, just as I have no right to force you to read MY book list.