Thursday, October 4, 2007

Banned Blah Blah Week Blah

I am happy to say that my library is not celebrating Banned Books Week (or BBW as the ALA likes to call it). This is probably because most of my co-workers are so professionally out of the loop and uninvolved that they don't even know about it, but in my little fantasy world it's because they, too, feel only apathy and a bit of irritation at this time every year. I have to agree with the Annoyed Librarian - I see that these so-called banned books are widely available in libraries and bookstores and I just can't bring myself to care much.

Banned Books Week is, of course, a misnomer. None of these books are banned, they are just challenged by parents who don't want their children reading about gay penguins or dog scrotums. We all know that there are scary fundamentalist Christians and their ilk everywhere, just looking for things that upset their delicate moral sensabilities that they can complain about. Why do we need a special week to draw attention to them?

The ALA says that they will continue to use the word "banned" because "A successful challenge would result in materials being banned or restricted." But these are all local actions, and in reality a successful challenge would result in one book being removed from one library in, perhaps, a small town in Alabama. I can't accept that this really constitutes banning. After all, everyone in that town in Alabama can still go out to their nearest bookstore and buy a copy. And if enough people care, they can probably petition the library to return the book to the shelf.

In a way, it's more about taxpayers trying to shape their library's collection, which brings me to a point I mentioned in a previous post: most censorship is done by librarians during the collection development process. Librarians will fight to the death to make sure that Harry Potter stays on the shelves once it's there, but my library just came perilously close to not purchasing a copy of If I Did It because one person does all of our adult collection development and that one person happens to find the book offensive. But you don't see stories about that on the news, do you? If librarians are going to talk about banned books, I think we need to examine what we ourselves are doing that may constitute censorship because ultimately we are the ones who have the most control over library collections.

The ALA says that Banned Books Week "celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them." Well then, let those parents express their opinions on the inappropriateness of the Gossip Girls series because we know that nothing will come of their complaints anyhow. If it is intellectual freedom and access to information that we are so concerned about, perhaps we should turn our attention away from these small isolated incidents and spend a week promoting more timely and relevant issues such as library funding and net neutrality.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Well said, especially about censorship happening at selection, rather than challenge.
However, we aren't that far removed from a time when the goverment (via customs and the postal service) was quite interested in supressing DH Lawrence, James Joyce, Henry Miller and more recently, Allen Ginsberg.

That said, at this point I think we should be more concerned with the FCC and self-censorship in broadcasting as well as net neutrality. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/04/books/04howl.html