Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Censorship and objecting to a library book

I was just looking through a new book about library collection development and came across a standard form libraries often use (and have used for years!) when someone wants a book removed from the library. The form requires you to answer a series of questions before your objection will even be considered. For example,

The first question is, "Did you read and examine the entire Item?"  This is a very helpful question for librarians because if you answer "no" they can immediately dismiss your objection on the grounds that you did not read the entire book. They know, of course, that if you are strongly offended by something in chapter one, you probably will not continue to read the book (in fact, if you did finish the book, they could ask, if you were so offended why did you continue reading?).

The second question is, "What do you feel might be the result of using this item?"  This is also a very helpful question for librarians. No matter what you answer here, it can be disputed and turned against you. It gives librarians a basis on which to dispute your objection.

The third question is,  "For what age group would you recommend this item."  If you wouldn't recommend it for any age group, you can immediately be dismissed as one of those narrow-minded, intolerant, fundamentalist bigots.

The fourth question is, "Do you feel there is any value in this item?"  If you answer no, the librarian can always find some value to the book and use that to dispute your objection. If you answer yes, you have just made the librarian's case that the book has some redeeming value and should therefore be retained.

It is not until you get down to the fifth question that the form addresses the core of the issue: , "To what in the item do you object?" The questions before this just force you to jump through hoops in an effort 1) to discourage you from objecting, 2) to make you feel like your objection has been heard, or 3), to give librarians reason to dispute your objection.

You should not allow this to mislead you, however. The fact is that librarian has absolutely no intention of removing the item! To do so would--in her mind--constitute censorship which in the library world is a sin much worse than allowing children to view pornography on their computers! In fact, the librarian may even forward your objection to the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee where it can be recorded as a "censored book" and celebrated in their annual "Banned Books Week."

1 comment:

professor ed said...

Do I denote a touch of cynicism in this offering? I agree Dennis, the form does NOT encourage any constructive "give and take" between a concerned patron and a librarian. Maybe a proper response to this procedure would be to attach a piece of paper stating that you belive the library is displaying very strong "complaint-phobic" attitudes by forcing you to use this form. As you feel our U.S. Constitution gives us the right to an un-incumbered avenue of complaint via freedom of speech, you can thank them for giving you the form. You hope to return as soon as your legal council gives their approval.