Monday, October 18, 2010

challenged books

I have never understood why people think they can dictate to everyone else in a school/community can read, especially when their arguments are solely on religious grounds. I think part of really believing in a viewpoint and understanding those beliefs, of any kind, is the ability to recognize that counterarguments or materials that do not fit into the belief system exist and then live as you believe you should without forcing those beliefs on others. I think I am going back to Mills' statement about not suppressing ideas because without ideas counter to what we believe is true we lose sight of the arguments for why we believe something is true. I agree with everyone else that having a policy laying out a process for dealing with challenges and collection policies. Since many challenges seem to revolve around ethical, moral, or religious beliefs, I think it is important for the librarian to appear to the challenger as a neutral party, neither for or against the books at issue, to avoid the situation from blowing-up or slipping into a fight over personal beliefs. I think policies can help frame the issue and hopefully allow the problem to be dealt with in a respectful, civil, and mature manner.

Although I sincerely believe that each person, not the library, should decide what he or she read, I am less sure about what to do with materials like Holocaust denial works or works with questionable pasts. I think for works like the Pernkopf Atlas, which are accurate and useful, each individual should decide whether he or she should use the book. I do not believe that books should necessarily be removed based on the actions or beliefs of the underlying authors or contributors, and the books should be separated from their origins, when possible. I say "when possible" because the author or contributor's beliefs may have more affect on the information or materials in some areas than others; for example, the accuracy of the information in the Pernkopf Atlas is not affected by Pernkopf's beliefs, but with works like "The Education of Little Tree" where the author turned out to be a Klu Klux Klan member, the author's beliefs may be more important.

Instinctively I want to say that Holocaust denial works are just false and should not be in libraries. However, if I think more about it, I think librarians should not be put in the place of deciding whether something is true or false. In some cases, a work may be clearly false, but others are not; as someone pointed out, some people may claim the bible is false. I think making any decisions about the truthfulness of any work is a slippery slope towards making collection decisions based on personal judgments of the books. Therefore, I think if a library feels Holocaust denial works are appropriate for the purposes of their collection, they should provide access to those works (without labels). As for the argument that libraries don't need to have them in the collection, but should provide them by inter-library loan provides one problem for me. If everyone decides to provide access solely through inter-library loan, the work will be unavailable because there will not be a library from which to loan the work.

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