The spring semester has rounded off successfully. I’m now into my first summer session and things are moving fast. I’m taking Web Graphics, Advanced Storytelling, and Seminar in Intellectual Freedom. Not only am I kept busy with preparing my knowledge of Children’s/Young Adult librarianship, but the seminar is preparing my analytical outlook on issues in the library.
The greatest gift that my undergraduate liberal arts college gave me was the ability to “foster the discovery of connections among disciplines and of larger patterns of meaning.” With my education, I was given the tools to analyze complex ideas and, through critical thought, connect varying concepts in order to approach the most logical, well-balanced conclusion. Although most of my library and information science classes have provided excellent vocational skills, I haven’t had any class that gives an in-depth, analytic perspective of library issues.
Oh, hello Seminar in Intellectual Freedom. In this small class of seven people, we have thus far examined the philosophical underpinnings behind intellectual freedom (including John Stewart Mill and his copious amount of commas), international issues, and privacy. We will examine copyright/open access, academic librarianship, research regarding intellectual freedom, national security, and the Freedom of Information Act.
An ever-present issue is censorship. In most mission statements a library will declare its duty to present a wide range of issues, opinions, and cultural material. But how do librarians go about selecting these materials? Is it a milder form of censorship because some opinions are chosen to be excluded (due to space), or is it part of the selection process? Is it the librarian’s duty to remove/restrict “questionable” or sensitive materials from a collection? At the request of a concerned patron?
Somethings that the class agreed upon was that (1) a librarian can never completely detach himself from bias and (2) that there is never a perfectly balanced collection of opinions. Librarians should not respond to questions of library censorship and bias by assuming that they will never proactively engage in them. Therefore, we should acknowledge our personal bias, but we should utilize our education to evaluate and provide the most wide array of opinions. While I might gag when the new Glenn Beck book comes out, I must examine its appeal to the public and its ability to provide alternate (revolting) opinions.
I think that we can all agree that every opinion holds a purpose–to educate ourselves. If we silence the opposition or the minority then we are claiming infallibility in our opinions. Without dissent, we lose the ability to come to a logical conclusion. If we remain on one side of an issue without any recognition of the other, we lose the ability to compromise and negotiate and then everyone becomes h8ers. Emotions are strong, but our minds are stronger–if we exercise them.
Where do librarians come into play? Well, a library houses information and librarians select that information. Librarians must try their hardest to provide a wide array of opinions. Notice I say a wide array as opposed to all opinions due to space issues (a predominately large problem for many libraries).The public should have the intellectual freedom to research and disseminate information themselves with as few barriers as possible.
If we look at a lot of censorship issues, a considerable amount is meant to “protect children.” In the provision of information, we must be sensitive to the communities we’re in. For the children’s and YA librarians, we are faced with “morally sensitive” issues in literature like sex, drugs, and rock n’–well, maybe not that last one so much anymore. A mother might be offended when her child comes home with a book on an issue that she wasn’t prepared to introduce to her child. This is where a good policy plan comes into place. If the library’s role is to provide information, instead of moral guidance, it makes it easier to avoid censorship requested by the offended parent.
Librarians engage in selection when dividing out material for children, material for young adults, and material for adults. So how do we decide what goes in the children’s section without severely limiting a child’s intellectual freedom? We can probably avoid Sex for Dummies or Ann Coulter’s latest book. So, reading level and age applicability is an appropriate selection choice (not censorship choice). One way to evaluate information is examining a book’s question of intent. If a children’s book’s intent is to promote racial slurs or encourage hate towards a group of people, librarians should probably avoid it, even if it provides an opposing opinion. Alfie’s Home is an excellent example. While this may be good for adults to research (mis)opinions regarding homosexuality, children may take it as absolute fact. I would not approve of a children’s book that belittled Christianity in order to advance its own cause.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the information/views in children’s books should not be at the expense of an opposing opinion. Children should not read Mein Kampf to learn how a wicked, demented person legitimized his beliefs. Their minds and education have not reached this critical analysis stage.
What are your opinions regarding censorship? If you had an issue with a book, would you agree with the library’s policy to leave it out?