- An inquiry into what is on your shelf is not a banning.
- A challenge to one of your books isn’t either.
- Captain Underpants is not “banned in Massachusetts,” as one alarmed teacher told me the other day.
- We know these phenomena are nothing new.
Where has this topic come up with MSLA? Well, my experience began with a discussion of Bobbitt’s Controversial Books in K–12 Classrooms and Libraries: Challenged, Censored, and Banned. A group of readers discussed how complicit librarians are in gatekeeping that looks a lot like banning. Concord, MA librarians “refused to allow [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] on their shelves, calling it ‘not fit for the trash’” in 1885 (Bobbitt, 81). More recently, Melissa Adler’s revelatory Cruising the Library critiques the way the Library of Congress classified certain subjects as “paraphilias” and thereby reproduced the otherizing of homosexuality through cataloging. It’s important to acknowledge the ways librarians are complicit in censorship, even as we try to fight against it.
With such a large topic of conversation weighing heavily on our profession, I opened the Vault using keywords like “ban,” “challenge,” and “censorship”. Now— most of the hits were for close confusers: academic “challenges” came up a lot (remember all that rigor talk?). And, predictably, many hits were about the ALA Banned Books Week. One was for Banned Website Awareness Day, which happens every Wednesday of the annual Banned Book Week: in 2012, an announcement focused on the “growing censorship issue in schools and school libraries – overly restrictive filtering of educational websites reaching far beyond the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)...” and even raised the issue about blocking social media sites.”
In Winter 2009 Sandy Kelly’s President’s Message echoed the educational value of Second Life, YouTube, and flickr which “all have educational applications that cannot be used in many of our schools,” but are being used at home. “Has anyone in our profession thought about the censorship of information that is prevalent in denying access to these resources?” (MSLA, 2009)
Books, though, are apparently the infernal medium. School libraries, the easy target: Mary Melaugh, from Marshall Middle School in Billerica, wrote in 2010 about the ”genuine look of horror on a sixth grade girl's face during our Banned Books Week lesson when confronted with the idea that books have been burned to censor them” (MSLA, 2010). I loved an MSLA Spotlight from the John D. Hardy Elementary School Library in 2019, where Lisa Rogers has students “practice using their critical thinking skills while debating the merits of particular books. They brainstorm solutions. They agree to disagree. They think about what a library would look like if each book had to appeal to each child” (MSLA, 2019). Mark Melchior, who served as Library Director at Cushing Academy from August 2014 to July 2016, wrote about the loss of the physical books at that space, which caused unseen problems with “visual support” during programing: “Consider Banned Books Week. How do you teach the pernicious effects of banning books when you have removed them from view? (MSLA, 2016)
MSLA President Elect Barb Fecteau, librarian at Beverly High School, wrote in her 2017 Super Librarian award column all about responding to parents who have problems with “all the sex and violence and depressing content”:
“All you can do it allow that parent to say their piece and remind them that while their child is coming from an obviously perfectly-parented home where these issues never rear their ugly heads, not all students have been blessed that way and these books can help them navigate their own experience…while it was initially uncomfortable, it developed into one of my favorite community outreach programs” (MSLA, 2017).
Barb’s “The Not-So-Young Adult Book Club” was meeting once every six weeks to discuss current YA.
Not all of us are as brave as Barb, but she is echoing Carrie Tucker’s charge from a President’s message from the same year: “It is in our collective nature to support free speech, confront censorship, identify inequity, advocate for funding needed to provide excellent library service, and defend the right of every child to a high standard of education. We do not surrender lightly” (MSLA, 2017).