Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned books?

I have thought, of late, that the librarians' annual nod to banned books and the evils of censorship gets us nowhere.  Who really pays attention when we celebrate Banned Books Week?  Does anyone notice?  When was the last time a book was truly banned in the United States?  Possibly1921 when James Joyces' Ulysses was put on trial and banned for being obscene.
We librarians ban books from our libraries every day.  We call it selection, deselection, weeding, and collection development.  But the book isn't banned is it?  Community members still have access.  The publisher is still publishing, Amazon is still selling, even the library in the next township may have a copy of the offending item on its shelves. 
The banned and challenged debate comes in to play when a community member questions our professional opinion over what we choose to include or exclude from our collection.  Often the community member is acting from a narrowly proscribed viewpoint that doesn't reflect the community at large.  We did not pull Harry Potter from our shelves, The Higher Power of Lucky can still be found, even 50 Shades of Grey found a home at the library.  Frankly, the debate where I work was that some of the librarians didn't want to give 50 Shades shelf space, while we had over 100 patron placed holds from our library patrons in the county-wide catalog.
In reality, only a country can ban a book and attempt to prevent it from circulating among its citizens.  In the Information Age this is becoming an Herculean task.  The real debate for librarians today is access.  Our community members demand access to the items that they want to read.  Thus we have ongoing conversations with publishers over equitable access to electronic books for our patrons.  We use our skill and experience to use library funds wisely as we select materials to stock our shelves.  And we occasionally purchase a book with lousy reviews because patron demand requires it.

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