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Librarians and banned books

Somewhere in the vitriol of that last Sarah Palin post I found something interesting from Rob:

Attempts at banning books are pretty common. Most people simply don't know how much thought and planning actually goes into book selection at public libraries and when they hear how the process actually works they often let it go. It's hard on its face to have a book like Mein Kampf written by Adolph Hitler in a library but there are legitimate reasons to keep it just as there are legitimate reasons for people to object to it. It would be a shame if Palin did fire this librarian over this issue though it's not clear from this article if this is actually what happened. But I remember when I interviewed for a job at a small town in Pennsylvania when I was fresh out of library school and the librarians flat out told me that ideals were fine but giving in now and then to irate tax payers kept more books on the shelves than fighting every battle over principles. I don't suggest that those fights aren't worth fighting, only that it gets tough to risk your job over Hitler. Harry Potter now, that's totally worth it. Silly muggles.

I can't imagine the struggles librarians go through trying to keep shelves stocked with books to encourage kids to read. It must be hard. The example Rob uses of Mein Kampf is a good one. It's a book written by a monster, and is it worth losing your job over? My God. What a decision with which to grapple. Then again, remember the old adage about how if you forget the past you're condemned to repeat it...what with Holocaust deniers popping up here and there, isn't it important that kids understand the history?

I think parents have an absolute right to decide what their kids can and can't read. What they don't have is the right to tell everyone else what their children should be allowed to read. If you don't want your kid reading Harry Potter or Mein Kampf or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, don't buy it for him, and don't let him check it out of the library. But don't prevent other children from falling in love with reading and learning. Such arrogance - that "I know how to raise your child better than you do" - simply makes me shudder.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to salute librarians for doing a thankless, tough job - but one that's still vital.


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Easy enough to rail against censorship -- we're all against it. But is that really what it is when a public library decides not to put a book on its shelves? Shouldn't taxpayers have some say in what books are purchased and circulated in their names? For instance, I'll bet that even the public library in Miami, much less the one in Wasila, doesn't have a copy of David Hoggan's "The Myth Of The Six Million," which argues that the Holocaust was just Jewish disinformation. Is that censorship? Would a San Francisco library buy a book arguing that homosexuality is a sin that should be punished by burning at the stake? And if it didn't, would the American Library Association and all the usual First Amendment shock troops go crazy about it? (Fat chance.)

When the government tries to prevent something from being published, that's censorship, and it's wrong, and we should be on it with laser intensity. When a public library takes into account the wishes of the people who fund it, that seems to me to be responsive government. And this idea that librarians are somehow above politics or accountability to the people who pay their salaries -- that they're like high priests who cannot be questioned -- is nonsense. If they think it's demeaning to take orders from taxpayers, let them go into the private sector.


Good point re: taxpayers' ... but in general it's not "The Myth of the Six Million" that's being banned. I'm guessing - and it's only a guess, I don't know - that most libraries aren't even looking to buy that book. When it comes to banning, usually somebody's going after "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret."

Silvia C

Given that no library has unlimited shelf space or budget, librarians make judgment calls all the time. I'm sure many people are annoyed that they can't find a particular book in their local library, but it might be obscure or appeal to only a few people. It only smacks of censorship when it's a popular book, or deemed to have some artistic merit (not too many people advocating for the Holocaust deniers' books).

Harry Potter books are popular, and if a segment of parents don't like their tax money used to buy them, they are going to have to suck it up. Other parents might not want their money used to buy books on religion, or childless adults object to the purchase of children's books, or vegetarians denounce cookbooks with meat recipes. Get over it.

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