Monday, September 22, 2008

Librarians: Czars of Acceptable Information

So this article is interesting. The piece seems to be saying that librarians are bullies who decide what is appropriate to have in libraries with no consideration for what taxpayers have to say (because clearly, librarians themselves must not be taxpayers.) The major example in the article is a situation in Nampa, Idaho where some people complained about The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex, and recommended that they be moved to the director's office where only those who specifically requested to could see them.

Imagine this. Imagine going to the library and looking up one of these books in the catalog. The call number includes "director's office." Now you have to approach a staff member to ask the way to the director's office. They, of course, question why you need to see the director. You then have to say, "I'm looking for The Joy of Gay Sex." Remember, now, you are in Nampa, Idaho. You are shown to the director's office by a staff member who now knows that you are interested in gay sex, and you need to make the same request of the director. "Hi there, I'd like to look at The Joy of Gay Sex!" Most people wouldn't go any farther than seeing that the book is in the director's office before giving up. Even if you persist, what if it's in the evening and the director is gone for the day and the office is locked? Do you have to make an appointment?

This is all so that children will not come across the book laying about and look at it and see pictures that are not appropriate for them. What people - like the author of the opinion piece - seem to forget is that public libraries aren't for children, they are for everyone. There are a lot of things in the library that aren't appropriate for kids, which is why libraries all have a separate children's section, and why parents are expected to go to the library WITH their children.

Getting back to the bully librarians, the author asks, "Does this sound like democracy in action, the free exchange of ideas?" I would argue that yes, actually, it does sound like the free exhange of ideas. The only way to HAVE a free exchange of ideas is to allow lots of different opinions and views on various issues. If you don't want to read about sex (or worse yet, GAY sex) then by all means don't pick up that book. But shouldn't it be there for someone who does want to read about it? Allowing the few "taxpayers" who complain to dictate that certain things be removed from library shelves, well, that sounds pretty undemocratic to me.

Near the end of the article is a point I've made in a previous thought-provoking post about how librarians do actually censor collections to some extent, based on what they choose to buy or not buy. But then he goes on say "Not only that, they’re regularly removing books from the shelves for being out of date or suffering from a low check-out rate." Which, seriously, are you suggesting we keep out of date books and books that nobody at all wants to read that are just taking up space? And get rid of books that some people may actually want to read (even if you don't)? I really want this guy to learn just a teensy bit about collection development before writing an opinion piece about it.

Actually, what I love the most are the comments. Did you know that making books about sex available is a communist act? And that Russia is still a communist nation? The same commenter also said "Americans won't have immorality paraded in front of children" which totally made me laugh out loud. Has this person turned on the tv lately?

CNS news apparently exists as an alternative to the liberal bias prevalent in the media, so I would expect an article about libraries to take a similar stance (though I'd hope it would be better thought out.) But as a librarian, I am all for the free exchange of ideas and availability of differing views, so carry on.


Anonymous said...

I have to tell you that back in the dark ages, when I was a page, I actually worked for a library which kept all "suspect" materials in the staff lounge. Which meant that no one could get them for the patron except for staff. As you can guess few people ever checked out the limerick; sex and other books shelved down in the basement.

Our library did actually get Joy of Sex, which since that was when it was first published, was sort of amazing. However, I suspect that it only got read when someone was on break - by themselves.

Thanks for the link to this article - I really loved the comments.

Who Elsa? said...

Very well put. I'm passing this one around. :)