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Courage of our convictions

Two library bloggers have recently questioned the wisdom of particular acquisitions they have made for their school libraries. With VP nominee Palin being rumored to have tried to censor library material, I suspect many librarians are a bit sensitive about intellectual freedom right now.

Jeri Hurd has a thoughtful "rant" about how Arabs are treated in the media, whether a book with a great text but an inciteful cover belongs on her shelves, and questions the role of schools and libraries in teaching multi-culturalism and tolerance. READ IT!

And Cathy Nelson wonders if permanently checking out a book on teen-pregnancy to the guidance counselor is a form of censorship.

Members of ALA and AASL on their respective listservs are discussing whether member commentary about Palin places ALA's non-profit status in jeopardy.

Let's review:

We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they need the help of censors to assist them in this task.  American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights
Young people have First Amendment rights. American Library Association

These are deceptively frightening statements for a large percentage of our parents, teachers and administrators. It takes a deceptively large amount of courage to fight censorship, to defend a wide variety of viewpoints - especially in a politically charged climate.

In the late 70s when I was a high school librarian, the superintendent requested that I take the magazine Psychology Today off the shelves. He objected to the ads for condoms in the back, as I remember.  I didn't remove it, but I didn't make an issue of it either. He just never checked to see if I had actually complied or not. Had the issue been pressed, I'd like to think I would have fought for my students' rights to the information in the magazine. I'd like to think so...

Techs, this certainly not an issue the library alone owns. How will you respond when a parent asks you to block Planned Parenthood, PETA or The Flying Spaghetti Monster websites? Do you have a review process in place or will you be blown about with every political wind? Good time to think about it before the gales of campaigning get stronger...

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Reader Comments (3)

LOL! I love the penguin...

I agree that we must stand up for intellectual freedom, even when it is unpopular. I work in one of the most conservative counties in MN and have recently had several opportunities to talk bout Palin's attempt to ban books. While it makes me shutter to hear "I be they are books I wouldn't want my kids reading, either," I try to hear their viewpoints and express mine, interjecting a dose of intellectual freedom discourse along the way. My challenge is to keep my tone civil and to maintain a respectful relationship so I don't get written off. While I use finger cymbols instead of the big crashers, I still make my voice heard, however unpopular it might be.

September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Dierks

Be very brave. My books meet the district selection policy guidelines, so I'm really okay with the teen pregnancy book. Is it cowardly of me to let the guidance counselor keep it for quick use? After reading about Palin, yes, it makes me feel prudish to have freely offered it to her. (But I also know my community.) Hey, I did check and several other schools in my district have the same book--thank goodness Destiny let's me see what's on their shelves. I am not alone. I guess we'll all make the front page and/or the 6:00 evening news if a zealot decides to have a field day.

Oh and I just discovered the reason my clerk likes to manage the magazines as they come in...she rips out all the Viagra ads and other assorted questionable info in the back of them. I asked her why and she said the (middle school) boys pass them around and giggle unmercifully when they are not removed. I just said, "...and?" She did not get it. She continued tearing them out. She is a long-standing 30+ year veteran, so I will let it pass for now. Choose your battles. Choose your battles. And be very brave. :)

September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

@ Linda,

It's defending the controversial stuff that is difficult. There are plenty of right wing writings I don't like, but I sure wouldn't want my kids denied access to them. The only way we honor people is by allowing them to come to their own conclusions.

Keep up the good fight!


@ Cathy,

I hope my post did not impugn your courage or second-guess your actions. I just think your struggles and decisions are some many librarians share.

I you ARE very brave for sharing your decision-making and doubts with the rest of us in a public forum. I hope you never stop doing that.

With great respect,


September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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