Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Interesting thought - Most libraries "ban" 99.5% of all books

I'm working through my slush pile of email. Six weeks ago a friend sent me a link to Apparently 99% of Books Have Been 'Banned'! by Randall Hoven. Randall writes about the false accusations of Sarah Palin banning books and continues with:

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But that leaves us with an underlying issue, regardless of Sarah Palin: what is so bad about a mayor, or even a student's parent, asking a school's library to remove a book from its shelves or just not display it as prominently?
When a mayor or parent or just anyone in the community tries to do such a thing, it is called censorship, book-banning or book-burning. When a librarian does it, it is called "
selection."
First, I'd like to clarify the language. Normally, a thing is considered "banned" only if it is a crime to buy or own that thing. You know, like guns have been banned in New York City and Washington, DC. If a book is removed from a public library, it is not "banned," it is simply not provided free of charge at taxpayer expense. And if a book is not even removed from the library, but merely taken off its prominent display shelf, it is not banned or censored at all, it is simply not promoted by your local government.

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Janine and I have struggled with our local library. It has a great selection, but there are several books in the children's section that make me wonder "What was the librarian thinking?" There was one book exploring the concept of suicide in a positive light. What does a depressed pre-teen think when reading such a book? But each time we've asked the librarians to consider moving the book to another section in the library we've been politely told NO.

Randall goes on to point out that the Library of Congress has about 21 million books. Most other libraries have a much smaller selection. At some point librarians pick and choose which books they think are appropriate. When they make the choice it is "selection" when other people try to get involved it becomes "book banning."

I don't know what the answer is long term. For the short term parents need to be vigilant on what books their children check out.


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Technorati tags: libraries, books

5 comments:

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Interesting. Yet, when you think about all the books available, and the shelf space in a library... obviously they have to be selective. However, I would also hope that the librarians would be willing to listen to local parents about what books to include--or not include--in the children's and YA sections. Ultimately, I guess is up to the parents to help their children pick good books.

Wenonah4th said...

Koala Bear beat me to my point: there's only so much space in any given library, and more books published than can fit in that space. Obviously the librarians have to choose one book over another.

Henry Cate said...

I understand there is limited shelf space. I am just worried that librarians are doing a poor job. I don't have a better solution.

It is dishonest for librarians to frame every request to consider moving a book from the children's section to the adult section a book burning.

Librarians are paid by our taxes. Many do a good job, but I'm afraid that many of the same problem that have happened in public schools are happening in public libraries.

Which is funny because we are also a home library family. One of our biggest problems in organizing the house is where to put all the books.

Clearly selections have to be made, but our experience, and others, is that librarians don't always make good choices. But when you ask them about it, we've been told to go away.

Home libraries. Humm... I'll have to think about that for awhile.

Janice Campbell said...

As a young person, I read for hours each day. We had no television, and I was an only child, so books were my companions. Once I started school, I'd visit the library each week, and walk home (it was seven or eight blocks-- in east Los Angeles, if you can imagine!) with a stack of books that would just fit between my hands and chin.

Dear Mrs. Rogers and Mrs. Brown, the librarians, made sure that I chose well, and didn't take home anything inappropriate. Sometimes I'd arrive at the checkout desk, and Mrs. Rogers would look at a book, and say, "I don't think it's time for this yet," or "I don't think your mother would want you to read this." They would often suggest alternate books that I'd enjoy and benefit from. I appreciated the guidance, even past elementary school age, because I truly didn't want to read things that weren't suitable.

I don't think I could trust a librarian to do that now (and I wouldn't expect it, as it's fundamentally my job). Mrs. Rogers and Mrs. Brown weren't banning books, but they were certainly careful to ensure that I received guidance to books that were appropriate for my age and our family values.

It's disturbing when loving guidance is portrayed as something negative, but in a sense, I can understand why librarians resist requests to remove or relocate books. I imagine they see it as the camel's nose under the tent. If you remove or relocate a book for one person, why not for the next 237 people who have an opinion? Where does it stop? If you move a book that a Christian finds offensive, will you have to get rid of Milton's Paradise Lost or Dante's Inferno because an atheist finds them intolerable?

It's a thorny problem, and one that I tiptoed around by building a very large home library. We still went to the library, but were very careful in our selections. After all, we are responsible.

While I wish that inappropriate books weren't on the library shelves, I don't want to lose the ability to choose and read those I think are appropriate, even though you may not agree.

My personal conservatism leads me, albeit reluctantly, to the conclusion that we may be better served by librarians who resist patron demands for change. As an extreme example, I have met quite a few otherwise nice people who strongly believe that fiction is equivalent to lying, and therefore ungodly and evil. I definitely don't want to wake up and find they've been let loose in my library!

Good post, Henry-- and a topic that bears contemplation.

Henry Cate said...

With the current attitutde that government should provide for most of our "needs" we'll probably have public libraries for a long time, but I wonder if the justification has lost much of its strength.

Publicly supported libraries are relatively new, they've only been around for about two hundred years. The claim was books were too expensive for the average person to avoid and thus society had to finance open libraries.

This may have made sense when a book might cost as much as a man made in a year. As the true price of books drops every decade, I wonder if, putting aside all emotions, it might make sense to get rid of public libraries. Especially sense more and more people are getting their information overthe internet.