Censorship is Uncool

29 Sep

Ya’ll, it’s Banned Books Week and I haven’t even posted about it yet!

Actually, I’m sort of struggling with what to say about book banning. Claiming that banning books is an affront to intellectual liberty is pretty well-worn stuff for librarians, and if you’re here, I’m guessing you’re with me on that one.

So, I’ve decided to make it local. The nearest recently contested (and reported) book is in Belleville, about 20 miles from Madison. Here’s ALA’s description of the situation:

In case my rudimentary screen capture skills aren’t up to par, it reads:

(2011) The Belleville, Wis. School Board  decided to keep Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (a book that’s required reading for high school freshmen in the curriculum) despite a parent’s complaint that the book was “pornography” and its language was “pervasively vulgar.” Published in 1993, the novel has been read by ninth-grade students at Belleville High School for eight years. The book deals with topics of abortion, sexuality, and the power of religion.

I’ve actually never read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, but having consumed a Judy Blume book or two in my day, I can use my imagination. Do parents believe that their children – by 9th grade – have never been exposed to vulgar language? Or that they have not begun to question the new workings of their bodies and the very real consequences that result? They have. (FYI, this is the part in my rant where I get the urge to throw something.) And if they, as a parent, are uncomfortable speaking with their child about these topics, why not put it in the hands of a trained professional? Young adults will get the information somehow – wouldn’t it be better to have an adult moderate the conversation than to have students rely on the whispered half-truths I remember from my own teenage years?

At least, that’s what I would argue. What I really think is that 9th graders are smart and savvy. They know where to find information, and most of the content of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes won’t be new to them. But by restricting the ability to have the conversation, they are pushing the scary, uncomfortable, and awkward truths of adolescence back into dark and shameful places. Which, if you’re a book-banner, is maybe the point.

I’m glad that the Belleville school board denied this request, and I’d encourage you to also make banned books local. You can find the map here: bannedbooksweek.org/mappingcensorship and many more resources at bannedbooksweek.org

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5 Responses to “Censorship is Uncool”

  1. Dee Ann Redman September 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    While I believe in the importance of intellectual freedom, I think the banned books thing gets overblown. We get several challenges a year, which we less confrontationally call “Statements of Concern”. I don’t remember the last time we actually reported one.

    We have good policies in place, everybody is listened to respectfully, our board considers them thoughtfully (and occasionally somewhat heatedly) and we get on with our life. It is part of my job to review the item in question, and I have certainly found several of them distasteful on a personal level, and can understand the concern. Yes, I’ve gotten to talk to our board members about bestiality in a DVD, and explicit sexual images in graphic novels, etc. What we’ve seen concerns about lately are not the big name books that get all the “banned books” attention, but the parts of the romance genre that are edging into erotica.

    The best tool is a well-educated library board or school board. If you do it right, it rarely becomes part of the evening news.

    • Cate September 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      Good point. I’m working in the library school library right now, and we don’t have much cause to deal with “statements of concern,” so I’d be interested to see what other libraries’ policies are for contested materials. After a quick search, I found Madison PL’s policy is here: http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/policies/request-reconsideration-of-library-materials. It definitely allows staff to moderate the situation in a less inflammatory way than screaming BOOK BANNER!!! all over the place. Sounds similar to your process, and likewise respectful to all parties involved.

  2. Kristin Briney (@brineydeep4) October 3, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Hey Cate!

    I was looking through some of the 861 e-portfolios (I find it very interesting to see everyone’s design ideas thus far) and stumbled across your twitter and your blog. I love what you’ve written thus far.

    I’ve subscribed to your blog’s RSS feed via my Google Reader (I use Reader to manage all the blogs I follow and can’t recommend it enough). It might be nice to add an RSS link to your blog to let others who use this technology easily follow your posts.

    See you in class tonight!
    -Kristin

    • Cate October 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

      Kristin – thanks for the recommendation! I’ve added the RSS feed (I think…this is all new to me) I do need to try out Google Reader – so much fun internet reading to keep up on!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Embracing the Boundary « Navigating the Stacks - October 13, 2011

    […] here because I might make a mistake. I might say something stupid or absolutely wrong. I might post on Banned Books Week and later read a piece online that makes me cringe over my lack of […]

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