“Where they have burned books, they will end up in burning human beings.”
Almansor by Heinrich Henne, 1821
Thousands of books smoulder in a huge bonfire as onlookers give the Nazi salute during the wave of book burnings that spread throughout German prior to World War II. International News Photo
This exercise assumes you are employed in the library of Whyville School. Whyville is a small community and all the children attend the school from Grade 1 to Senior 4. Recently you faced several challenges about materials in your library from a parent. You received no support from any other staff, and in fact, the principal asked you to remove the offending material. Now the principal has been visited by the same parent and wants you to develop a list of other materials in your library which could receive challenges in the future. The principal has also indicated that you should be prepared to remove those materials from circulation.
Develop criteria that could be used to determine which library materials are likely to be challenged in the future:
- Gay characters
- Explicit language
- Racism names
- Sexual matters
Develop a list of reasons why it is very difficult to protect libraries, both public and school, from challenges:
- Not everyone supports a challenge
- Do you take a book off because it offends one person?
- Libraries have to be neutral
- There is a wide range of views, not everyone finds the same view
- People interpret materials differently
Working on your own, write definitions for the following terms as they are used in a library setting:
- CensorshipSuppression of ideas and expressions
- State censorshipState/customs/police for governments/churches/individuals
- Self-censorshipWriter who changes word or scene to filter out inappropriateness
- Publication bancourts hide evidence from the public
- Selectionchoosing books of good quality for patrons
- Challengesaction taken by individual/group saying why a book should be removed from circulation
- Public attacktakes challenge to media for support
- Written complaintletter condemning library’s contents
- Oral complaintspeaking out regarding disdain for library
- Expression of concernQuery for judgement of book
- Pressure of inclusionCensorship calls from left and right, e.g. male nurses, female doctors
Working on your own, answer the following questions:
What personality traits do censors generally share?
Censors have one view which they believe to be correct. They believe there is a relationship between reading and committing an act, that reading encourages the act. They assume children believe what their teachers tell them.
What techniques are used by censors?
Censors can try to prevent print materials reaching their desired audience. They can severely alter texts to omit material they do not want the wider audience to read.
List steps that a library should take to prepare for potential challenges to materials:
- Have a form available to fill out
- Have a fair policy to follow
- Keep ear to the ground
- Keep current
- Have library/establishment support
- Clear selection process
Describe how staff should deal with challenges:
- Have witnesses present
- Make notes soon after
- Don’t panic
- Tell the Book & Periodical Council
Explain what actions should be taken after a challenge has been received:
- Record challenge properly
- Be prepared for more challenges
- Reconsider policies
Remember any work can be censored at any time. Anyone can challenge a book. Removing a book from circulation can make it popular; the work will be deemed forbidden fruit and everyone will want to read it.
...if one book is removed from a classroom or library, no book is safe any longer. If a censor succeeds in getting one book out, every other person in the community who objects to another book should, in courtesy, be granted the same privilege. When everyone has walked out of the library carrying all these objectionable books, nothing of any consequence will be left no matter how many books remain.
Donelson and Nielsen
The Winnipeg Public Library’s Request for Reconsideration of Library Material form is available online at http://wpl.winnipeg.ca/library/pdfs/RequestReconsideration.pdf. The library asks for identification of the book, whether the whole or portion of the book is a concern, what do you think the material’s purpose is, and a request to state the concern as specifically as possible citing identifying pages, passages, etc.