Monday, June 18, 2012

Young Adult issues: Censorship

“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

Part One:
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
  • Profanity
  • Racism names
  • Sexual matters
  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Religion
  • Terrorism
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
Part two:
Working on your own, write definitions for the following terms as they are used in a library setting:
  • Censorship
    Suppression of ideas and expressions
  • State censorship
    State/customs/police for governments/churches/individuals
  • Self-censorship
    Writer who changes word or scene to filter out inappropriateness
  • Publication ban
    courts hide evidence from the public
  • Selection
    choosing books of good quality for patrons
  • Challenges
    action taken by individual/group saying why a book should be removed from circulation
  • Public attack
    takes challenge to media for support
  • Written complaint
    letter condemning library’s contents
  • Oral complaint
    speaking out regarding disdain for library
  • Expression of concern
    Query for judgement of book
  • Pressure of inclusion
    Censorship calls from left and right, e.g. male nurses, female doctors
Part three:
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.

Part four
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
  • Research
  • Keep ear to the ground
  • Keep current
  • Have library/establishment support
  • Clear selection process
  • Committee/everyone/reconsideration
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 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.

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