Banned Books Bullshit, Year 4

Once again, Banned Books Week is here, the Spirit Week for Intellectual Freedom lovers all over the United States. As it is the apparent tradition of this event, the same tortured arguments and responses get trotted out like holiday decorations pulled out of bins that are stored in the basement all year. It is met with all the joy and cheer of people who like to point out the historical inaccuracies of the Christmas story; that Jesus was probably born in the spring, that the tree was adopted from pagan traditions, and that the wise men probably didn’t arrive until Jesus was a toddler. These are probably the same people who saw Linus start his monologue in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and thought, “Oh, it’s time for a bathroom break.”

Yes, there hasn’t been a truly “banned” book in the US in decades. With the advent of the telephone and the internet, no book is truly unavailable to someone who wants to get their hands on it. There are reasonable cases to be made to relocate, re-label, or otherwise withdraw a book from a collection. The objections to subjectively experienced content should not trump over the rights of access to others. It’s about intellectual freedom, the freedom to read, and not marginalizing books because of their content.

And so forth and so on.

While the arguments about what is appropriate (age, content, language, access, etc.) could rage on from now until the next Banned Books Week, I think the one reasonable thing that opposing viewpoints on the issue could agree on is that the debate needs to happen. When a director, school administrator, teacher, or member of the community takes it upon themselves to unilaterally remove a book outside of established challenged material guidelines, all sides suffer from the lack of dialogue. It is the transparency and the rule of policy that allow people to approach the challenged book rationally and objectively. From that, a (hopefully) fair decision can be rendered.

For myself, there has to be a process and a trust in that process for any sort of resolution to be made and feel good about it. I’m less interested in whether a book was kept or removed than as to whether the challenged materials policy or guidelines were followed. In a (hopefully) fair hearing, either side can prevail as it comes to reflect the community that it serves. I have come to terms with the fact that you can’t win every book challenge and have it remain on the shelves, but I’d like to imagine that any decision made to remove a book is community approved.

The Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA makes it a point to remind people to update their challenged material guidelines (or draft some, if your library doesn’t have any.) And if you get a challenge, be sure to report it to them for their data collection and statistics (they even have a video). Seriously, report it. It matters.

And it’s 2012. Even in a hundred years from now, my greatest fear is that this will still be the same conversation, right down to people being the community’s moral police while others rattle the intellectual freedom bones insisting that all book selections are final. If we as a species are as enlightened and as civilized as we claim to be, then we better start acting like it.


Previous installments of Banned Book Bullshit: 2009, 2010, 2011.

8 thoughts on “Banned Books Bullshit, Year 4

  1. Pingback: Banned Books Bullshit, Year 4 | Jenny's Mashup of Anything Library |

  2. My library does nothing for Banned Books Week because we think it would encourage patrons to challenge works within our collection. In other words, why inform patrons that someone from another community found a certain book questionable?

    Additionally, Banned Books Week promotes works that really do not deserve any kind of accolade such as ‘Ttyl.’ The only reason why this book has received so much attention is because of its unconventional format and mature subjects matter. Otherwise, it is a lousy book. I hate that it is on the same list as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ There is no comparison between the two.

  3. Allow me to introduce myself. I am an agnostic, and I consider agnostism to be the purest form of freethought. I would never say, “the pure form”, because it is a human institution, and as such, is inherently flawed.
    Banning books, how is that different from burning books? I am instantly reminded of Galileo, a devout catholic, who discovered that the earth is not only not the center of the universe, it is not even the center of our solar system. His books were burned, he was forced under penalty of death to renounce his theories, then sentenced to life under house arrest, by the catholic church.
    I am not a typical parent, I know, in fact I’m proud of that. I let my children watch South Park, and play video games like Grand Theft Auto. South Park takes controversial social issues and frames them in a light that is not only hilarious, but, casts real questions on how we view those issues as a society. If we want to protect our youngest children from material that contains sexuality, we are wasting our time, because young children don’t understand sexuality, are totally disinterested, and would rather read about astronauts or princess fairies. If you want to insulate your teens from sexuality, you lose up front. Mother Nature trumps you into near silence. Teens are going to have sex whether you like it or not. The only hope you have to influence the outcome is to keep a pregnancy from wrecking a life dream. That means access to birth control.
    If you want to teach them to avoid profanity, again, you lose, every vulgarity and profanity I know, I learned in school. Most of it from the catholic kids that transferred from the catholic gradeschool to public junior high.

    So, as you imagine you are preserving their innocense, what you are really doing is failing to prepare them for the real world. Stop banning free speech on any grounds. You might think you can deter neo nazis or islamist radicals, or human traffickers, but, you are deluded, the internet has rendered such measures irrelevent. Libraries are a good place to make a 25c copy. If you can’t find an opinion outside the mainstream, they need to be converted to homeless shelters.


    • I am all for free speech across the board, but you’re confusing book banning with collection development. I’m a children’s librarian, books with high level of sexuality or violence do not belong in a children’s department. This is not to say those works should be removed from the library. They should not.

      “If we want to protect our youngest children from material that contains sexuality, we are wasting our time, because young children don’t understand sexuality, are totally disinterested, and would rather read about astronauts or princess.”

      As a adults, we should take some responsibility as to what we expose to kids. However, these idiots who challenge children’s books fail to realize these works are not really pornographic or damaging. Take for example a book about puberty. Kids eventually need to learn about this subject matter. To say this book is too much is laughable.

  4. Danielle said,

    “As a adults, we should take some responsibility as to what we expose to kids.”

    Well, since you are a librarian in charge of the childrens section of a library, I think I can correctly assume that your superiors have set upon you a certain set of expectations of what your duties are, and the parameters within which you are expected to execute said duties. And now you complain that you think those parameters are unfair. I agree. But, we both know that in this job market, you must play the game, or they will find someone who will.

    But, to my point. If you put, “Portnoy’s Complaint” or , “The Valley of the Dolls” on the children’s shelf, even though they are cult classics, kids won’t read them, because they were written over their heads.

    And your point is very valid that a book about puberty does not violate the innocense of a child, it helps them understand the changes they are experiencing. The prudes would say: It’s the parents responsibility to explain such things to their children. The problem is that parents drop the ball, and then teens feel guilty about things they feel that are not only perfectly natural, but are driven by the tide of evolution, survival of the species. Common sense must trump the religious idea that sex is filthy.

    Now, let me tread lightly here. Hear me out. As parents, we would love to create a dome over our children, and let them live their fantasy years, imagining they are Barbie or GI Joe, and bathe in the innocense, insulated from the outside world. But, here is a sober question: In doing so, are we really preparing them for the world they will face when they graduate high school? Well the truth is, by the time they graduate high school, they already know every vulgar and blasphemous expression you might have hoped to spare them. And, while it is not a world we would desire, the Spartans taught their children from puberty, how to kill. That’s quite a contrast isn’t it. In Israel, everyone goes into the military and learns how to kill.

    So, realistically, maybe it’s time for the prudes to shut the f up, and introduce our children to reality.


  5. Pingback: You Can't Read That! | Paul's Thing

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