This has been one of my favourite topics thus far because I thought I knew where I stood on censorship, then I did the readings and had to have a rethink. Gotta love that.
In Kim Moody’s comprehensive article, “Covert censorship in libraries: a discussion paper” (2005), she describes various possible sources of censorship that may occur in libraries. Some relevant to schools are vendor or publisher bias, acquisitions outsourcing, pressure from funding bodies and the most insidious, self censorship and ‘community standards’. Working in (even loosely) religious schools, I have observed censorship in such laughable forms as drawing underpants on a naked Mr McGee in Mr McGee and the Biting Flea by Pamela Allen and more worryingly, in the lack of books about puberty at a girls primary school, even though girls begin puberty as early as eight and often by the end of primary school. When books were acquired, they were kept off the shelf in the back room, to be ‘requested’. As if a confused 10 year old getting her period for the first time is likely to boldly ask at the circulation desk. Hm.
Self censorship is more intriguing, meaning that the librarian’s own biases and prejudices affect his or her selection, whether knowingly or not. This is what makes having a well-defined collection policy so important, to over-ride such biases in our own selection.
But this is all relatively straightforward in my mind. What made me think was Moody’s discussion about the ethical minefield of ‘hate’ literature. She quotes Chomsky: If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Of course that’s true, but does that mean you should include texts which are racist, sexist, homophobic or anti-Semitic? How extreme do ‘views’ have to be before they become unacceptable for inclusion in a library? What is important to remember is that there is literature about these topics and then there is literature advocating these ways of thinking. A library can include the former, which may acknowledge the issue while contextualising it, without containing the latter.
As a children’s librarian, I feel a drive to offer materials that reveal the breadth of the world out there, which will include its beauty, potential and confusion but must also include its ugliness. Many parents question the bleakness which pervades a lot of contemporary fiction for children. Issues include death, drug abuse, homelessness and sexual assault, among other things, even in picture books. As teachers and librarians who can censor at will, we must walk the fine line between protecting children from what may frighten them and allowing them to explore the world through the relative safety of books when the time is right.
Moody, K. (2005). Covert censorship in libraries: A discussion paper. Australian Library Journal, 54(2), 138-147. Retrieved from http://www.alia.org.au/publishing/alj/54.2/full.text/moody.html