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, September 30, 1998

September 30, 1998 - Banned Books Week

September 26 through October 2 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. This is the 17th year of its observance.

At the end of last year, all of Colorado’s public libraries were asked to submit a list of all of the library materials that had been “challenged” (complained about) by library patrons.

Eighteen public libraries reported 68 challenges to materials, exhibits and even library architecture around the state. (The full report can be found at http://douglas.lib.co.us/97challenges.html.)

The Library Research Service noted with some surprise that no formal complaints had been filed about Internet sites.

Next year, there will be. Here’s some background: a couple of years ago, the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. It mandated various criminal and financial penalties for people providing access to pornography on the World Wide Web. This Act was eventually struck down in many particulars by the Supreme Court.

Well, in September of 1998, just in time for Banned Books Week, the same Congress that wanted to CENSOR Internet pornography is now a PUBLISHER. Yes, you can find the Starr Report through the Douglas Public Library District’s web site. We point to it from our Government Information page: http://starrreport.excite.com/toc.html.

But I remind you that the library didn’t publish this. The federal government did.

I’ve thought a lot about the issue of censorship through the years. And I’ve reached two basic conclusions.

First, things really aren’t so bad. Aside from Salmon Rushdie, no authors have been threatened with death -- and even that situation seems to be looking up. No Colorado authors or librarians have been burned at the stake.

As for the Starr Report, I’m so disgusted by the whole thing that I’ve stopped reading anything at all about it. When it comes on the radio, I turn the radio off. I have a choice, and I use it.

Meanwhile, I can guarantee that more than 68 library materials were complained about last year in Colorado. Not all complaints get reported.

But it’s important to contrast that with the hundreds of thousands of materials added to libraries’ collective shelves last year. Statistically speaking, the complaints are small to the point of insignificance.

Moreover, objecting to the content of books is almost as much fun as talking about the things you like. That’s what free speech is all about. You’re entitled to your opinion -- and at least you’re reading!

Second, I’ve decided that the real problem in America isn’t the decline of intellectual freedom. It’s the decline of civility.

A small part of the population has always abused whatever information retrieval systems were in place at the time. Good public policy doesn’t take the worst case as the norm.

If 18 uniformed men walked into the library and started setting up a baseball diamond, I wouldn’t sue them for criminal acts. I’d say, “Whoa, guys! Wrong place!”

The same thing holds true for those who seek to turn libraries -- funded by the general public primarily for research -- into peep shows. We don’t need the federal government to adopt a new Prohibition. We just need library patrons who realize, “Whoa! Wrong place!”

On the other hand, there are lots of circumstances when what may seem pornographic from a distance is actually a perfectly legitimate medical inquiry, or concerns art.

As always, the purpose of Banned Books Week is to pause a moment to reflect on the balance between public decency and consideration for others, without trampling all over the fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s a worthwhile exercise.

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