This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 19, 1992

February 19, 1992 - ironies of censorship

For the past several years, I have served as the co-chairman of the Colorado Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee.

All this committee does, really, is try to track censorship attempts around the state. How do we define a "censorship attempt"? That's when someone seeks to remove a book from library shelves.

Most commonly, both in Colorado and the rest of the country, the complainant is a parent, and the library is in an elementary school.

If librarians holler for help, the Intellectual Freedom Committee trots out various noble-sounding policy statements about why removing "challenged" materials isn't a good idea. Not that most librarians contact us -- where censorship is most effective, hardly anybody talks about it.

So let's talk about it.

First, censorship has a long and illustrious history. It dates back to the earliest days of printing.

Johannes Gutenberg came up with his movable type printing process in about 1440. Before then, books had to be laboriously hand-copied -- which meant that there weren't many books. Of course, there weren't many people who could read them, either.

But once printing was established, the world saw an explosion of publishing. By far the most popular title was the Bible. Gutenberg published one himself. But literally hundreds of versions of the Bible appeared shortly thereafter, translated from the Latin.

It may surprise you to learn that in the age of printing, the very first book to be censored was ... the Bible, in fact, several Bibles. Some people believed that the new art of printing (according to the World Book Encyclopedia) was a "'black' art that came from Satan. They could not understand how books could be produced so quickly, or how all copies could look exactly alike."

There were objections from the clergy, as well. As long as the Word was both in Latin and hard to come by, people depended on priests for their Scriptural guidance. But as families eagerly snapped up their copies of the Bible, suddenly they began to have their own interpretations.

One publisher of the Bible was even put to death -- he mis-set the type in the Ten Commandments to read, "Thou shalt commit adultery."

A second irony of censorship is the basic premise that underlies every attempt to impose private morality on the public stock. Put simply, the idea is that "A book made me do it."

The most-often cited example of this perspective is based on the testimony of convicted serial killer Ted Bundy. A notorious and pathological liar, Bundy announced to the press that the REASON he became a serial killer was because he had read a lot of pornography.

It happens that many statistical studies have been done in the past twenty years that show conclusively that pornography has no causative relationship whatsoever to the incidence of violent crime, particularly sexual crimes.

The Meese Commission (under President Reagan's administration) also failed to find any causative link between pornography and sexual crimes -- then recommended sweeping restrictions on materials anyhow.

There's something odd in the fact that censors find Ted Bundy more believable than a host of highly respected researchers.

The third irony of censorship has to do with the results. Presumably, when parents demand the immediate removal of a book from a school library, they seek to reduce the harmful influence the book is supposed to exert.

But what happens when a book is challenged? Every time, a censorship attempt on a book INCREASES interest in it. More people check it out. Everybody talks about it. Libraries are compelled to buy more copies to keep up with the demand.

If the aim is to reduce a book's influence, isn't this exactly the wrong way to go about it?

The fourth irony of censorship is the current claim that there's no difference between a librarian deciding which book to buy, and a parent saying which book should be thrown out. In effect, censors say that "selection" and "censorship" are the same thing.

But that completely misses the point. If you buy a Ford Taurus because it got good reviews in Consumer Reports, that's selection, based on the best available knowledge of what's good. If you don't buy a Toyota, because you don't like anything Japanese on principle, that's a boycott. And that's censorship, a rejection of something regardless of its merits.

The difference between selection and censorship is the intent behind it. Selection tries to build library collections; censorship tries to reduce them.

I hope no one in America really believes that what's wrong with our schools is that our children are reading too much.

You know the best way to improve the quality of your local library?

Instead of asking us to remove books you object to, why not just tell us about a better one? Librarians welcome that kind of involvement, and we'll do our level best to get it on the shelves as quickly as possible.

After all, if we were to prune our shelves of all the books people object to, we wouldn't have much left but dust. And that wouldn't be much of a library, would it?

No comments:

Post a Comment