As a librarian seeking to develop the library’s collection, you have performed a detailed community analysis, set service priorities, and determined the role your public library will play. You have carefully reviewed and selected materials to ensure they meet both the needs of your community and the criteria set forth by the ALA, stating that “Librarians have a professional responsibility to be inclusive, not exclusive, in collection development and in the provision of interlibrary loan. Access to all materials and resources legally obtainable should be assured to the user, and policies should not unjustly exclude materials and resources even if they are offensive to the librarian or the user. This includes materials and resources that reflect a diversity of political, economic, religious, social, minority, and sexual issues. A balanced collection reflects a diversity of materials and resources, not an equality of numbers” (Diversity in Collection Development: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights). Yet, even after such careful consideration, you are now facing a challenge to a “controversial” book.
According to the ALA in Reporting a Challenge, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.” Whether a religious group is decrying a moral affront, a parent thinks that content will corrupt their child, or there’s a question of compromised national security, most reasons for challenges boil down to fear. “Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad” (ALA, Freedom to Read Statement). Challenges often occur when books contain violence, sex, profanity, homosexuality, occult themes or rebellious youth. The result of restricting access to certain books often backfires. Staples (1996) states “for one thing, librarians say the primary effect of keeping kids from reading a book is that they want to read it above all others.” The NCTE’s Students Right to Read Guideline further asserts that “Censorship leaves students with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture.”
Robert P. Doyle (2008) documented over 80 books on this year’s list of challenged books, though it includes only the known challenges. He states, “Surveys indicate approximately 85 percent of the challenges to library materials receive no media attention and remain unreported. Moreover, this list is limited to books and does not include challenges to magazines, newspapers, films, broadcasts, plays, performances, electronic publications, or exhibits.” In addition to challenges, “stealth censorship,” occurs when books quietly disappear from our libraries’ shelves in various ways. Parents often choose to forego a formal challenge, and simply slip a book off the shelf. Librarians, either fearing controversy, loss of employment, reduced funding, or pressure from administration, may contribute to censorship by being overly cautious about the books they order, or physically flagging controversial books already on the shelves. Publishers contribute to censorship by avoiding stories on controversial topics, and authors censor themselves by changing content, even if it affects the credibility of their work.
One of the main sources of help in defending a challenged book is the ALA, which has set forth many policies and posted links to other resources on its website. Some of the most important links to the ALA, The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and others, are included in the sources section below.
A patron approaches you, explaining that a specific book shouldn’t be available for young people due to violence and sexual situations. What do you, as the librarian, do now? Do you think that there circumstances in which censorship would be necessary?
American Library Association (ALA)
Support for dealing with or reporting challenges to library materials. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/challengesupport/challengesupport.cfm
Reporting a Challenge. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/challengesupport/reporting/reportingchallenge.cfm
Workbook for Selection Policy Writing. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/challengesupport/dealing/workbookselection.cfm
Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm
The Library Bill of Rights. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/statementsif/librarybillrights.cfm
Diversity in Collection Development: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/statementsif/interpretations/diversitycollection.cfm
The Freedom to Read Statement. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/freedomreadstatement.cfm
Random House Children’s Books. First Amendment First Aid Kit. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/firstamendment/talking.html
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Guideline on The Students' Right to Read. 1981. Accessed November 30, 2008. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. What Johnny Can’t Read: Censorship in American Libraries. The Alan Review, Volume 23, Number 2, Winter 1996. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/winter96/pubCONN.html
Robert P. Doyle, Books Challenged or Banned in 2007-2008, 2008. http://www.ila.org/pdf/2008banned.pdf