Monday, September 25, 2006

Banned Books Proclamation

Ahh, Banned Books week is upon us, so I thought I might comment about it since this is my first Banned Books week as the Annoyed Librarian. If I'm still doing this next year, I might not bother.

Banned Books, my word. The ALA acts like we live in some closed society where the government controls the flow of information. As everyone with even a modicum of intelligence has figured out by now, none of these books are "banned" in any ordinary sense of the term. Okay, so some sensitive soul doesn't want her child reading nasty racial epithets in Huckleberry Finn and asks that it be removed. Well, the ALA says it's your god-given right to be forced to read nasty racial epithets, unless of course you're on one of those university campuses harassed by the old PC people and their war on free speech. It's also your god-given right to have your child stumble across illustrated copies of Heather has Two Very Excited Daddies. If you don't like it, go back to Nazi Germany where you belong, you fascist!

Yes, this is the week of the year when librarians unite together to protect the one thing that makes libraries different from the mall--books. The rest of the year we have to listen to nitwits tell us that we need to dissociate ourselves from books or we'll become irrelevant. The cognitive dissonance at ALA must be terrible.

Which brings us to the Banned Books Proclamation. Let's examine the whole darn thing, why don't we. What comes first?

"WHEREAS, the freedom to read is essential to our democracy, and reading is among our greatest freedoms; and"

Okay, I'll accept this. But is it just the freedom to read that's essential, or actually reading? Should we have people pass literacy tests before they can vote? How essential is this?

"WHEREAS, privacy is essential to the exercise of that freedom, and the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one's interest examined or scrutinized by others; and"

Reading, yes. But why is privacy essential? Does this mean that if someone sees what book I'm reading then I become illiterate? What's wrong with scrutinizing people's reading? You learn a lot about people that way. If I go to someone's house, I always examine the bookshelves. If they don't have any bookshelves, that also tells me something about them. Access to information and the freedom to read is one thing, but this obsession with privacy is something else.

"WHEREAS, the freedom to read is protected by our Constitution; and"

Umm, no, it isn't, actually, at least not explicitly. Maybe that's one of those powers delegated to the states. Apparently the person who wrote this has never read the Constitution. Well, I have, and this freedom isn't in it. I find this ignorance of our founding documents scandalous, and I'm going to write my congressman about it.

"WHEREAS some individuals, groups, and public authorities work to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label "controversial" views, to distribute lists of "objectionable" books or authors, and to purge libraries of materials reflecting the diversity of society; and"

Interesting statement, no doubt true. Some groups to work to remove materials. However, I find the scare quotes around controversial and objectionable interesting. Is the claim here then that there's no such thing as an objectionable book? That's nice and morally relativistic of us and all, but is it true? Are all books appropriate for school libraries, for example? The Story of O, for example? And don't libraries automatically limit access to most reading materials by never buying them in the first place? Does this mean that small libraries are banning books?

"WHEREAS, both governmental intimidation and the fear of censorship cause authors who seek to avoid controversy to practice self-censorship, thus limiting our access to new ideas; and"

My goodness, where do they get this stuff? Limit our access to new ideas? First, how many new ideas are there really? Is there anything new under the sun? And are we limited? We're drowning in "information." And someone would have to be pretty spineless indeed to fear censorship in this country, when you can put anything you want and read anything you want on the Internet (which you can't do in some countries I might mention that Google really wants to do business with). It also must be unforgivably easy to publish based on all the idiotic books out there. Who are all these timid geniuses afraid of censorship? Oh, and who is censoring? Challenging a copy of Harry Potter at the Bumfluff, Alabama Middle School isn't censorship.

"WHEREAS, every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of American society and leaves it less able to deal with controversy and difference; and"

Oh, please. Every enforcement of an orthodoxy? What does that mean? Enforcement by whom? By the government? By a church? By your mother? And toughness and resilience of American society? Is this the same toughness and resilience that I see every day in the news when yet another "victimized" group starts whining about how they're oppressed? Oh, am I not supposed to say that, am I? Should I have exercised self-censorship?

"WHEREAS, Americans still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression, and can be trusted to exercise critical judgment, to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe, and to exercise the responsibilities that accompany this freedom; and"

Ah, if only they favored free enterprise in economics. And can they really be trusted to exercise critical judgement and recognize propaganda and misinformation? We're talking about ordinary people, you know, not brilliant librarians. These are the people swayed by mass advertising and political slogans. These are the same boneheads that vote Republican/Democrat (Please select the party you dislike the most).

"WHEREAS, intellectual freedom is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture; and"

Okay, you've got me.

"WHEREAS, conformity limits the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend; and"

Why? Conformity to what? What a vague and loaded term. Thanks a lot, Henry Thoreau, but it really all depends, now doesn't it. For example, we should all conform to the norms of liberal democracy. Oh, and the mores of civilized society. Perhaps you need an example. You want to see a classic nonconformist, check out that guy that just blew himself up on the street in Baghdad. Now that's some nonconformist expression for you! Perhaps the folks at ALA who come up with this stuff should try to conform to the demands of rigorous thought. Just a suggestion.

"WHEREAS, the American Library Association's Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year as a reminder to Americans not to take their precious freedom for granted; and"

I won't take this precious freedom for granted! I promise!

"WHEREAS, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them; now, therefore, be it"

I'm certainly in favor of protecting and expressing unorthodox opinions, having so many of them myself. But does this mean every library has to buy every book published to ensure everyone has access to every idea?

"RESOLVED, that the _______________________ Library celebrates the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, September 24-October 2, 2005, and be it further
RESOLVED, that the _______________________ Library encourages all libraries and bookstores to acquire and make available materials representative of all the people in our society; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the _______________________ Library encourages free people to read freely, now and forever.
Adopted by the _______________________ LibraryDateCity, State"

I'll let you fill in the blanks.

More tomorrow.


Degolar said...

Only peripherally related to this particular post, but the more I read your blog the more I'm convinced you'll one day strive to be ALA president. You certainly have passion about the organization and it tends to dominate your attention.

AL said...

Possibly, though I'm not much of a politician. Maybe the Annoyed Librarian could be a write-in candidate. I write so much about the ALA because it's so easy to ridicule.

Anonymous said...

"If I'm still doing this next year, I might not bother."

Please don't leave us AL. We need your voice. Promise that if you stop blogging it will be because you do in fact become President of ALA, and you will only stop blogging for that year.

sassymoll said...

Does everyone at ALA headquarters secretly wish they were lawyers? Their pseudo-legal documents are just ridiculous. I had enough of this sort of thing when I was in law school, thank you very much, I don't really need to see it coming out of my professional library association. Please keep making fun of ALA, AL, you do it so well.

Norma said...

I think I've lost track of every title and format my PL had of Michael Moore and every picture book of Elvis Presley, but when I asked for a title by a conservative think tank, I was told it wasn't appropriate for the collection. Wonder if it made the banned list, or is that only for the ones that actually got into the collection (and past the library censors).

Anonymous said...

I would soooooo vote for you for ALA prez.

AL said...

Appropriate for the collection. That's really the determining factor. The implication of the ALA position is that the only people capable of determining that are librarians, not any of the people actually served by libraries. So, Norma, you're just going to have to realize that your conservative reading habits are inappropriate and change them to something approved by the librarians. Intellectual freedom means the freedom to think like us.

Anonymous said...

Forget librarian debauchery (unless, you know, you're into that)and focus on reality:

Islamic books advocating death to homosexuals.

Is this a "difficult idea?" Is it difficult if you are age 10? Is it a difficult idea if it might promote a Matthew Sheppard type incident where "Lord fo the Flies" middle school boys decide to stone the Art Teacher and his "partner?"

The scorpion always stings the frog, so fill the shelves with scorpions.


AL said...

Excellent examples, Taupey. I focus on library porn only because it excites me so.

a bad librarian said...

Well, you did mention the "Story of O" so, so who knows? I prefer "Le con d'Irene".

If you run for the ALA, you got my vote.

Anonymous said...

Hate to say it, but if the typical American could be trusted to "exercise critical judgement, to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe," we would have already witnessed a coup d'├ętat at ALA Headquarters the ALA's current blah-blah on "censorship" would be moot. Rate those juvenile books like movies - go ahead - we're all smart enough to see past those "biased" ratings!