Saturday, October 16, 2010

Challenged Books

Re: Holocaust denial literature:
I guess I don’t really see the big deal. Include it or not. If you choose to include it, make sure there is plenty of good material espousing the other side. I doubt anyone is harmed by not including holocaust denial literature, nor effectively prevented from finding it. A quick google search will locate thousands of sites denying the holocaust. Since these can be accessed on the library’s computers, no one is being denied anything. So whoopty-do.

Although I appreciate Wolkoff’s argument that librarians must resist being the deciders, isn’t that what we do every day? Since we cannot purchase every book in the world, we make decisions about which will be the most useful, the most appropriate, the most read. Why should we allocate precious resources to bigoted or untrue material? Of course that material should be made available via interlibrary loan if a patron requests it, and if actually purchasing a book or two for our own collections will mollify our vocal anti-semitic patrons, why not? After all, I suppose, Nazis are public library patrons too.
Re: West Bend:
While I will allow for the possibility that some books might be inappropriate for a public library, the arguments against their inclusion need to be based on something other than religious belief. Religious belief is subjective and not something that can be usefully brought into a library policy debate. I noticed that most of the pro-ban speakers based their objections along such religious lines, with one man essentially saying God would harshly judge the library board. Sorry, friend, but unless you are prepared to conjure up this “God” to appear before the board, I deny your qualifications to speak on his behalf. Your religious beliefs are simply beside the point. This is a nation of laws, under a constitution, with well-defined rights of free speech. Simply invoking “God” does not nullify your requirement to craft an actual argument.

Clearly, at least a faction among the ban books crowd was aware of this, since the main crux of their petition centered around child pornography. Child pornography is one area where U.S. law restricts freedom of speech, and few among us would be in favor of public libraries circulating anything actually in that category. Simply branding something child pornography, however, does not make it so. I read over the Barnes and Noble descriptions of the books, and most of them appeared to be about typical teenage issues like fitting in and coping with peer pressure. The ones that looked as if they contained a certain amount of “romantic” material were clearly describing two teenagers, and not an affair between an adult and a child.

I very much appreciated the moving defense of the challenged books by Midge Miles, the mother of a gay son, who described the bullying and taunting he endured growing up in West Bend. He had made the point that the girls he went to school with would go over to the adult section of the library and check out harlequin romances, but that there were no books available for him, a gay teenager, about first love. There is absolutely no way to justify the inclusion of the romances if you are also denying the rights of the gay community to have their own such books. Which brings us back to religion: in the end, that’s the only argument the pro-ban folks could make.

Part of the petition signed by the Maziarkas was the request to add books about overcoming homosexuality. This seems like an easy place to throw the religious conservatives a bone. Just like the holocaust denial books, if there is a request, why not just bring some in? The inclusion of such material would go a long way towards fending off charges of bias, or that the library is intentionally promoting a gay agenda.

One thing the pro-ban group, and any individual or group seeking to ban a book, should keep in mind: when you make a huge public issue about something, it only brings more attention to it. I’m sure 99% of the community in West Bend had no idea those books existed in the first place. If these zealots would have just shut up, how many kids would have even known about them, let alone read them? It would be interesting to see how much more popular the books became in the wake of this poorly-conceived attempt to ban them.

When someone wants to ban a book, my initial reaction is always that that book must be worth reading and having on the shelf. Anything that can arouse someone’s passions enough to attempt to ban it must be very powerful; a challenge to, and reinvigoration of, our democratic ideals.

1 comment:

  1. Alcibiades,
    I'm in the same boat, when I hear of a book challenge I often think to myself, "Ooh, I haven't read that" or "I haven't read that in a while." So it is kind of ironic that a person or persons attempt to challenge a book and have it removed from a collection often achieves the opposite of the intended effect.

    In response to your suggestion of throwing the religious conservatives a bone and add some titles on ex-gay or reparative therapies, I respectfully disagree. Here's why: Ex-gay or reparative therapies have been repudiated by the APA as inefficacious and potentially harmful to individuals. I think that this goes against many of the quality standards that librarians use when selecting other non-fiction titles i.e. making sure that titles are well reviewed, authoritative and contain accurate information. For example, you wouldn't collect a history text that featured inaccurate dates or other poor research.

    That said, I suppose it is common to find a book such as, Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About by Kevin Trudeau. Trudeau has been banned by the FTC from creating infomercials to advertise his "cures" because of evidence of fraud, misrepresentation and other deceptive practices. I suppose the deciding factor here would be popularity as his book has unfortunately sold millions of copies. So I suppose I agree with you, marginally, if there is demand give the patrons what they want. However, I don't feel that a library has an obligation to use its limited resources to collect ex-gay titles in the name of balance only.