Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Right To Read: Censorship in the School Library

The Right To Read: Censorship in the School Library. This is the text of an old (from 1990) but still timely ERIC Digest.

Almost all librarians agree that censorship is a bad thing. Censorship can occur when library materials are challenged by the community. It can also happen when librarians make acquisition decisions.

It is important to remember that this censorship is not just a right-wing fundamentalist endeavor. Many groups (from all over the political spectrum) attempt censorship. The site noted, "Those who lead library censorship campaigns come from both right- and left-wing organizations. Fundamentalists may dislike the open discussion of such issues as abortion in news magazines, feminists may challenge outdated female stereotypes found in certain books, and African-American groups may object to the portrayal of members of their race in such works as Huckleberry Finn or the Black Sambo stories."

I think we hear more about conservative censorship than liberal censorship due to the composition of the library profession. Most librarians consider themselves to be progressives. When they are challenged by a right-wing group, these librarians immediately publicize the incident. When they are challenged by a left-wing group, they keep it quiet and are more likely to find an accommodation without actually engaging in censorship.

This subtle bias is probably evident in purchasing decisions too. How many children's librarians are actively seeking out children's books from religious publishers that those from the left would find objectionable? How many of these same librarians are buying every children's book that comes out portraying homosexuality and families? Hence, the very nature of what is bought is likely to dictate what books get challenged by which groups.

This would make a fascinating study. I am kicking around dissertation topics right now (the time is growing close!) and censorship by librarians via purchasing decisions might make for a good topic. It would be easy to get into OCLC and actually compare the ownership of select titles and see if there is a visible ideological difference in selection rates. It may give Banned Books Week a new twist.

1 comment:

plumwalk2 said...

You might want to explore how to solve the problem. Our school libraries were dismantled a few years back by a Superintendent who believed that books were obsolete. I stopped going to meetings with him, because he was tyrannical on the subject. I wanted to throw things. I was a teacher in another district and a parent in my own. We witnessed the dismantling of libraries throughout the district. Teachers began to hoard materials in their own classrooms. They became very territorial of the materials that they had salvaged from the disappearing central location. On a recent tour of schools some classrooms resembled "Hoarders". Now almost ten years later, a new sheriff is in town and he is reopening libraries. This is a good thing, but now teachers have settled into a strange place regarding books. They have gone over to online sources far too much. The system's technology no how is not that comprehensive. We need books. What does a 25 year old know about history or literature? It takes a lot of years to read and examine the variety of books one uses in these academic areas. It is an everyday search in a lifelong pursuit of knowlege. You would not believe what some of the younger ones are passing off as history or literature. One program uses a Hip Hop history book as the only text. Crazy. What is the answer? How much of the truth should be withheld? Classics should remain intact, because they represent the views or experiences of the artist or writer in his own time. I want more literature from African Americans and other cultural groups. I would not remove authors like Dickens, Herman Wouk, J. Steinbach, Chinua Achebe, Aristotle, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Chaim Potok and the list goes on. I object very strongly to the idea of someone teaching my grandchildren who has not read the classical historial and literary works from various cultures.