Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Problem with Censorship

In a community near mine, there is a fight against censorship going on. You see, a library assistant found a copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier and decided that it was inappropriate for children. She challenged it's shelving. (For the record, while I am never, NEVER for supporting censorship, I fully support the process of challenging shelving. Some books don't belong in the kids' section and frankly, some books don't belong in crafts or in non fiction, or in adult fiction. These decisions are sometimes made by people who have never read the book.)

She lost. So, rather than just move on with her life. She checked the book out. For a year. I guess she would have kept it out forever, but someone put a hold on the book. (An 11 year old girl, for what it's worth.) She debated about what to do, consulted a colleague and just removed the hold. Please hold, my head is exploding.

I regularly have holds removed because my card is locked, so I know all about that, but really, this is flat out abuse of power. Okay, you have a problem with that, whatever, call her mom, but to just quietly remove a hold on a book??

Anyway, I digress. She got caught. She got fired. (Take that, book burning coward.) And that's the end of the story.

Except it isn't. She has garnered support from people who believe that this book should be banned. Who are *shocked* that there is nudity in a graphic novel. Oh my.

Frankly, I think the problem here is that people somehow believe that graphic novels are comics and that comics are for kids. Both parts of that sentence are incorrect. Graphic novels are novels. It's in the name. There are kids graphic novels and adult graphic novels, just like there are kids novels and adult novels. I'm sure this woman hasn't checked out every adult novel with a sex scene in it, because, well, she'd have the whole freakin' library at her house.

Some people want this book to be removed from the library completely. The more mentally balanced people want it removed from the graphic novel section because it's appealing to kids and bright and colorful and near young adult fiction.

Okay, I think a better move here would be to move the graphic novel section out of young adult fiction. The book in question is a graphic novel, and as such should be shelved with the rest of the graphic novels, the majority of which are probably for adults.

I've never read this particular book and I've only seen a few panels online, but I have read other Alan Moore novels, The Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I have also read Frank Miller's Sin City or at least parts of it. I will readily admit that these are not kids' books. These are books with adult themes written for adult audiences.

I will also admit that it doesn't look like I'd be jumping up and down for my kid to read these. On the other hand, I started reading Stephen King at twelve. I read Gerald's Game at around 14. So, yeah, I think it depends on the kid.

Which brings me round to my point. (I know, I know, in record time, even.)

Censorship isn't about whether or not you understand the argument against the work in question. It's not about whether or not you sympathize with those who want to keep kids from getting in over their heads. It's not about whether or not you want your kid to read this work. It's about the fact that no one has the right to determine what the rest of us can and can't read.

Whether or not your kid reads this book is between you and your kid. Whether or not this book has a place in the local library is about whether or not it's a published book and people want to read it. Obviously, because it was purchased because of a request and what brought this up was a hold request, people want to read it.

Censorship is still around because people can understand it. People can sympathize with wanting to protect their kids, their community. Sure, I get that. I kicked my kid out the front door yesterday so she wouldn't hear a conversation about child abuse.

But I would never tell another parent what their kid should and shouldn't read. And I would certainly never tell a whole community that they aren't intelligent enough, savvy enough to read fiction and label it as fiction. (Especially graphic fiction with as many pictures as words.)

Censorship is wrong. It's the removal of personal freedom. It's the destruction of reason and free flowing ideas.

John Milton, in his treatise Aereopagitica, wrote that a man of faith could only remain a man of faith by exploring the intellect of the world. In other words, faith is strengthened by existing in a world of unfettered thought, free-flowing information and rampant knowledge. Faith needs challenging to grow. He backs this contention up with more scripture than any self-righteous library workers could ever conjure.

Milton was fighting against a government he helped to install when he wrote and illegally published Aereopagitica. I wonder what he would think if he could see our world today. On the one hand, the internet has certainly added to our free-flowing information, making almost any desirable knowledge available at a mouse click. But on the other hand, we are still fighting the same battles. Still fighting a select few that believe they are the elite, the chosen, the capable. That they should decide what you and I see.

If you want to protect your child, go to the library with them. My library allows you to place a restriction on your child's card that they can only check out books from certain sections. And all childrens' cards are restricted from the DVD, Video and CD section of the library. It's possible to protect one without restricting everyone else.

But I would argue that a better tack would be to stop trying to protect your child and start teaching them. Teach them about censorship and the problem of group think. Teach them to talk to you when they read something that disturbs them. Read what they read and help them deal with the problems that arise.

Yes, sometimes, you may have to tell them that something is not age appropriate. Brynna always wants me to read my horror novels to her because they have interesting covers. I have to say no because I want her to sleep sometime this century. But when you do, offer an alternative. That's what got us started on the Worst Witch books and we both LOVE them.

But remember that your control only extend to you and yours. Not to the world at large. The old TV adage, if you don't like it, turn it off applies to books, too. If you don't like it, close the cover and take it back. The rest of us may want to check it out.

"Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks."
John Milton


Anonymous said...

Just curious, how did you come to find out that the librarian did that? Was it on the news?

I love your blog! I agree with this post and have another point to add. I think it's also appropriate to suggest to other parents, etc, in your own demographic which books might not be appropriate. Let them form their own opinions, but I don't think it's wrong to draw people's attention to books that might not be appropriate.

I wonder if, as a librarian, there is any kind of code of ethics that would permit her to suggest to parents when they were checking out books like this that it might not be appropriate for children under the age of whatever. What do you think?

Jessi said...

Anony - Yes, it was on the news. I have read further accounts online. What bothered me about all the accounts I read, was the sympathy toward the censors. One site was a graphic novel site.

I don't know if there is an ethics code for librarians specifically, but as was pointed out on one site, she wasn't really a librarian. She was an employee of the library, which is a little different and requires much, much less education.

Strangeite said...

Couple of things. As Anna works at the Lex Library, this has been big news.

1. The graphic novel was actually in the adult section. At the Jessamine library, the adult section is next to the young adult section, but it is important to point out that the book was in the adult section.

2. There is a code of ethics for librarians and libraries. Specifically Items II, III, VI and VII of the ALA Code of Ethics, apply in this situation. There are as follows:

II.We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

III.We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

VI.We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

VII.We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

The two ladies in question violated all four of these codes.

Jessi said...

I was wondering if you or Anna would weigh in on this. I had seen a picture of the graphic novels and young adult fiction being right next to each other and it never occurred to me that the adult section might be right on the other side of that. In the SC library, the graphic novels are in a room with the young adult fiction, but they are also right behind new releases, so it depends on your perspective.

Also, I will say again that the ladies in question weren't really librarians, they just worked the circulation desk. I think that makes a difference. The library acted in the best possible way. I bear no fault to the library.

Strangeite said...

I respectfully disagree that it should make a differnce. While a librarian assistant isn't a "librarian" because they don't have their MLA, it is still their job to uphold the principals of the library.

These ladies knew what they were doing was wrong. They had be talked to, disciplined and warned that this behavior was not appropriate. It was after all of the above, that they conspired together to refuse the book.

It isn't like this was a spur of the moment decision. They planned out their actions and the subsequent media attention in advance.

This was not simply a poor choice by an employee that didn't know better, it was a deliberate attempt at censorship and direct affront to the principals of the library.

Jessi said...

I'm not saying that they aren't responsible. Just the opposite! What I mean to say is that not having that MLA makes the Code of Ethics and whole issue of censorship a little less important to self-important biddies like this. If they had the education and the training, they probably would have felt different about it altogether. Not having the degree doesn't excuse them by any means. All I meant is that a librarian would not have made this mistake, planned or accidental.

Strangeite said...

I guess that is true. One thing I can guarantee though is that there will be 10 people lined up that would love to have their jobs that do respect the principals of the library.

Anonymous said...

Answered all my questions. Thanks.

(ann--forgot to sign it)