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"Censors" are So Scary!

My how things change. On a blog hosted right here at Library Journal, an LJ editor has made a point of attacking the Annoyed Librarian on several occasions. And now here’s the AL hosted at LJ. Apparently neither of us is very careful about the company we keep.

Just think, a few weeks ago I was sitting in my lonely writer’s garret writing the AL. Now I sit in my beautful new corner office on the thirtieth floor overlooking the park looking for things to be annoyed about. Selling out to the Man? I highly recommend it!

Last week, of course, was Band "Banned" Books Week, or BBW, the week when the ALA remembers that libraries used to promote books and reading instead of video games and Internet pornography. It’s also the week where those nice folks at the Office of Intellectual Freedom try to redefine "censorship" so they can make it look like they’re really protecting us from something powerful and sinister – like some rube in Bumflap, GA trying to get Heather Has Two Very Excited Daddies removed from the library. Oooh, I shudder at the power these powerless rubes wield over us all. Scary stuff!

An argument broke out in the comments section of my fluffy post last week over the meaning of censorship, what library schools are teaching about it, and what the ALA thinks. My most popular commenter (the ubiquitous "Anonymous") suggested I take a "refresher course" in ethics because I think it’s censorship only when governments suppress information, not when rubes protest the fact that a widely available book is in a particular library collection. It’s quite possible that I do need a refresher course. In fact, I’ve never had a course in ethics at all, though I do keep a copy of Kant’s Metaphysik der Sitten to pull out during faculty meetings. The concentration it takes to read it makes it easier to drown out whatever it is my colleagues are droning on about. In library school, I think the instructor of "Libraries, Society, & You!" might have spent a day on the topic, but in that class I tended to sit in the back of the room furiously scribbling in an effort to finish my dissertation and occasionally reflecting in retrospect that bangs weren’t really a good look for me.

However, unlike this particular critic, I’m really smart and I know that we can’t just make words mean whatever we want them to mean, at least if we want to communicate intelligently with other people. (I realize intelligent communication isn’t everyone’s goal, though.) Maybe in Library Cloud Cuckoo Land you can claim with a straight face that the book-challenging rube is a "censor." Outside of that land, the rest of us know what the word means. Consider for example this quote: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." — Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. in Texas v. Johnson. That’s right, the government prohibiting expression of an idea. Perhaps ALA has heard of it. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure they have, because I found the quote on an ALA website called Censorship Basics. It’s about the only thing on the page, but it’s about as basic as it gets. If the government isn’t prohibiting it, and you can buy it easily, then it’s not censored, baby, and that’s that. The folks at ALA might not understand the concept because they live in a country with almost no censorship. Instead of considering themselves lucky, they give us book-challenging boogie men every year so we think they’re doing something worthwhile.

The ALA likes to play fast and loose with language, but according to one of my readers, at least one library school might be even more ridiculous in their use of language than the ALA. From the comments to last week’s BBW post:


I just got finished with a Modern Course in Ethics. You know, what you are calling a "refresher course."

I’ll just tell you right now: it has gotten worse then what AL is stating.

Before, what you state was the definition of censorship. "No library has to stock any book that doesn’t meet their selection criteria" was a perfectly Good argument. Today, the very notion of "Selection Criteria" is now also Censorship. A librarian browsing a catalog and selecting materials based upon ANY set rubrics, is censorship.


The original critic wasn’t having any of it, and suggested the commenter was either lying or a product of a bad library school. I’m not sure how we could establish that a library school wasn’t bad, but that’s neither here nor there. The commenter continued:

I don’t know if I should be miffed or offended with how you have purported to know precisely what was taught in MY Ethics course, the one I WAS in and you WERE NOT this very last summer, at the conclusion of my degree.

We spent a week on the subject of censorship [I know, absolutely not enough time!] and this idea was supported with readings and powerpoint presentations – and the definition of censorship in this class was quoted word for word straight from the ALA Literature. The readings in conjuction with this topic removed all concious librarian tasks from the collection development process.

I assure you, very much so, that this IS what was taught in my Ethics course as the definition of censorship, and it makes perfect sense because my MLS school, like most others, is VERY cozy with the ALA. It is afterall, an ALA accredited MLS hampstermill."


That has a ring of honesty about it to me, but I can’t verify it. Who knows for sure if this really was taught. Is there a library school professor out there even less intellectually rigorous than some of the ALA folks? It could very well be. Not all library school professors understand the distinction between selection and censorship. Partly that could be because they DON’T WORK IN LIBRARIES. Oh, and NEITHER DO THOSE FOLKS AT THE ALA. If not selecting a book is censorship, then most libraries in the country are censoring most books and every library is censoring some books. If anyone wants to give us the actual class and professor who taught this, that would be nice. If such a professor exists, he or she is probably not reading this because he or she likely can’t read at all.

But is this what the ALA actually says about the topic? Regardless of what some nitwit who managed to be hired to teach a library school course says, does the ALA claim that selection is censorship?

It turns out they don’t, at least not explicitly. That’s a relief. I’d hate to think my ALA dues are going to support people that dumb. Here is what they do say, on the website Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A:


"Don’t Librarians Censor Everything They Choose Not To Buy For The Library?

No library can make everything available, and selection decisions must be made. Selection is an inclusive process, where the library affirmatively seeks out materials which will serve its mission of providing a broad diversity of points of view and subject matter. By contrast, censorship is an exclusive process, by which individuals or institutions seek to deny access to or otherwise suppress ideas and information because they find those ideas offensive and do not want others to have access to them. There are many objective reasons unrelated to the ideas expressed in materials that a library might decide not to add those materials to its collection: redundancy, lack of community interest, expense, space, etc. Unless the decision is based on a disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access, a decision not to select materials for a library collection is not censorship."


Up until the last sentence, that actually made good sense, and good sense is so rare to find in ALA pronouncements that I want to applaud the effort. Good job, ALA! At least they don’t say that selection based on any criteria is censorship.

However, and with the OIF there’s always a however, their good sense is undermined by their lack of understanding of what constitutes censorship, and for that matter "intellectual freedom." First of all, a librarian might decide not to buy a book for her library because the book is stupid, stupidly written and full of stupid ideas. She says to herself, "oh my, this book is stupid. I don’t think we should waste our money on stupid books, plus I don’t particularly want stupid books in my library." That objection doesn’t bother me, and if the book is freely available for sale, it certainly isn’t censorship. The ALA would still call it censorship, though. On the same web page is their definition:


"What Is Censorship?

Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone."


My goodness, what a load of fecal matter. So if some rube gets a book removed from some library, that’s the "power of the state" suppressing ideas? What a tremendous leap in logic. Since most book challenges seem to be about books for children, the argument becomes even more bizarre. So, EVERY book is suitable for children? Oh, even on the off chance some librarian actually removed a book, how does that suppress ideas for any of us? If a book is gone, does that really mean "no one else has the chance to read" it? How dumb do you have to be to believe this stuff?

The ALA likes to make everything "censorship" for a reason, though. They think it makes them look good. They don’t like to make distinctions between words. Ideologues never do. If we classify everything as "censorship," then stopping the poor rube from getting a questionable (or as the ALA would say, "questionable") book removed from some hick public library is just as heroic as fighting deliberate government suppression of information. Plus, it’s a heckuva lot easier to fight the ignorant rube than, say, the FBI or President of the United States. Win win scenario! We’re all supposed to go along with this semantic legerdemain so we can feel good about ourselves.They think it makes them look bold and heroic. I think it makes them look silly and stupid.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose
.

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Comments

  1. teacherninja says:

    Welcome! Thank you for being awesome and making us all question and think.

  2. Jon Gorman says:

    I was just thinking the other day, “What is missing from Annoyed Librarian? A crappy comment system!” Well, maybe this will cut down on the comment crud. Too bad that’s one of the more amusing parts of AL.

    I’m anxiously awaiting seeing how LJ system can handle the amount of traffic from this blog.

  3. Jon Gorman says:

    Oh, and is there an RSS feed for this new blog? Cause the rss icon just takes you to a “help” page which helpfully doesn’t have any link for the new blog…

  4. The Eeyore Librarian says:

    Welcome! It’ll be exciting to see what happens here.

  5. AL says:

    I understand the feed will be set up sometime today.

  6. Disappointed says:

    Sell out.

  7. Sarah W. says:

    So will the Annoyed Librarian be here at LJ from now on, or is this a one shot deal?

  8. Dances With Books says:

    I do agree with a lot of the points you make, but in the end, that rube simply needs to mind his own business. He or she wants to keep their little Susie from reading X or Y book, that is their prerogative. It is not their right or prerogative to prevent others who may want to read it. Don’t want to read X or Y? Don’t check it out of the library. Susie brought it home? Maybe you should have been supervising little Susie. A little personal responsibility could certainly go a long way when it comes to book challenges.

    Do let us know when the feed gets set up so we can move over. Maybe a post in the Blogger blog?

  9. fota says:

    Job posting censors needed!

    But first: AL, you rule! Office with elevators, a view and a paycheck. (Keep your anti-corruption force field fully charged.)

    And now, a special treat for the cushily employed AL: a job posting in dire need of a thorough AL thrashing. Lookie here! Digital workerbee wanted — ONLY snailmail apps accepted!

    Well, “in person” delivery is also acceptable.

    But wait! There’s more!
    “Time-limited, full-time”

    Postperson’s title:
    Director, DIMP

    Subject:: [LIBJOBS] United States — Raleigh, NC — Digital Systems Librarian
    Hide
    **Apologies for cross posting**

    The State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, is seeking applications from qualified candidates for the position Digital Systems Librarian in the Digital Information Management Program (time-limited, full-time).

    For questions, please contact the DCR Human Resources office at 919-807-7373.

    Please be aware that applications will only be accepted by U.S. Post, by courier, or in person, and must be received by the DCR Human Resources Office no later than 5:00pm on October 14th.

    Mailing address for U.S. Post delivery: DCR Human Resources Office, 4603 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4603

    Delivery by *any other means*: DCR Human Resources Office, 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

    ····················································

    Amy E. R.
    Director, Digital Information Management Program
    State Library of North Carolina

    Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency. All e-mail sent to or from this sender may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.

  10. soren faust says:

    It’s the death of an era. Although, something fresh needed to be done. I was running out of snark energy and kinda getting bored with it, to be honest. One question: Do you have enough control to criticise Library Journal and/or John Berry on your new blog?

  11. merriwyn says:

    but when all is said and done BANNED BOOKS WEEK displays are so much more impressive than BOOKS SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE TRIED TO REMOVE FROM A LIBRARY BUT THE ALA WOULDN’T LET THEM WEEK displays. It’s all about the marketing

  12. AL says:

    This is permanent for the time being. As far as I know, I can write about whatever I like. LJ came to me, not the other way around.

    And I’ll post the feed on the other blog as soon as it’s set up.

  13. Looking elsewhere for library news and d says:

    OMG LJ. You’ve stooped to recruiting Annoyed Librarian to increase traffic to your website? NOT what I look for in a professional journal.

  14. austeniteshero says:

    AL,
    It’s so good to see you again. It’s about time you started making money off this.

  15. Need some clarification says:

    If, according to you, “the government isn’t prohibiting it, and you can buy it easily, then it’s not censored, baby, and that’s that”, then how do you write this off: “By contrast, censorship is an exclusive process, by which individuals or institutions seek to deny access to or otherwise suppress ideas and information because they find those ideas offensive and do not want others to have access to them.” I understand that these are not your words, AL, but you do use them to continue to make arguments.

  16. Disappointed says:

    Since when did LJ become the equivalent of a snarky gossip mag?

    Shame on you LJ, for promoting such garbage.

  17. Keep Posts Short says:

    The best thing about this setup is the 7000 character limit on posts. I’m Kat will have a hard time staying within that limit.

  18. Just annoyed says:

    Censorship is deleting things, like comments, when they don’t necessarily agree with the policy or philosophy of a particular journal.

    Sad.

  19. Just annoyed says:

    I was going to complain about Ebsco, but seeing as they are a sponsor, I better keep it to my self.

  20. Library Dude says:

    When your voice has been bought, how can we know whether your words are yours or your owner’s?

  21. Library Student says:

    If her voice has been bought, but it still sounds the same, that might be a good indication that the AL is still the AL. Even if the words were the words of her owner, if they still were bad-ass, critical, and often hilarious, would it matter? If they still challenged the ALA, MLIS programs, and librarianship in general, would it matter? Hopefully she can reach a broader audience this way and bring more people into the debate. The fact that LJ recruited her is admirable.
    I assert that it does not matter where the words come from, but instead what the words are.

  22. Library Dude says:

    “I assert that it does not matter where the words come from, but instead what the words are.”

    Huh? Without context, words have no meaning.

  23. Privateer6 says:

    ALL RIGHT AL! glad you are in business with the blog. Well deserved.

    Ah crap just realized that I may have to just read LJ now!

  24. THE Anonymous says:

    I love the ads! They pop up big time and obscure the content. I just may have to go out and buy their crap so you can have a six-pack of martinis.

  25. Original Anonymous Librarian says:

    Don’t knuckle to “The Man”.

  26. Interesting says:

    So I see that some comments that were NOT in favor of having such an unprofessional blog on LJ have been deleted.

    Would that be the AL who has censored these, or is it LJ themselves (who, if they’re smart, may well soon realize the mistake in adding such an unprofessional blogger to their paid writing staff)?

  27. Original Anonymous Librarian says:

    “Interesting”, you’re comment is still up. What is an “Unprofessional blogger” anyway? AL has had her own blog off LJ for some time. It should be interesting to read more than just the party line out of another building on East Huron.
    Chill out and have a martini. AL has arrived…..!

  28. Mr. Kat says:

    I’m happy I could be so helpful last week! This new venue looks exciting enough and I hope you do well!

    Your post points out the double talk that is present in the ALA. Most people miss this completely because they embrace such doubletalk when it is important. When the instructors get to this point, they talk real fast or ask that you don’t scrutinize the discussion too much, or simple become quiet and move to the next topic. Or they argue that there isn’t a problem because of an invented, contrived, or fixed solution. A piece of false logic, or some other illogical invention to solve the paradox.

    In this case, the ALA has painted us into a corner that says we can never censor anything, but we all know there is only so much space. How then could we possibly develop a meaningful collection? In rides the ALA to provide an escape.

    They describe some ”

  29. Mr. Kat says:

    They must count characters a little differnetly here…that or there is a whole lot of hidden HTML coding before and after this textbox! Don’t worry. I will adapt

  30. Rob says:

    HA! Might want to check that BBW link to Wikipedia, unless you like sending people to a page on Big Beautiful Women.

  31. effinglibrarian says:

    hxxp://effinglibrarian.blogspot.com/2008/10/fame-and-fortune-and-other-f-words.html

    don’t be hard on AL: we all want a little fame and fortune and other F words.

  32. annoyedspeciallibrarian says:

    Ok, LJ will host the blog, but will they do anything to help all of us be less annoyed?

  33. Uncomfortable says:

    I find AL to be an odd pairing with LJ. I mean, LJ (excepting the Backtalk column) is typically so “following the bandwagon” and “rah, rah, go 2.0″ in its flavor, while AL is…well…the opposite. Unless LJ is trying to change its perspective, be more edgy…?

  34. Alaska Hottie says:

    I thought we were talking about Palin’s backside. Can we please get back on topic? Thank you.

  35. Should I Still Be Anonymous? says:

    Your movement to LJ has caused me a blog entry signing crisis. You are now part of the establishment. It should therefore be acceptable for me to sgin my thought-provoking posts to a LJ-hosted blog.By just signing myself as Anonymous in my many posts of the years have I actually been promoting censorship by hiding my own identity for fear of reprisal? Have I been self-censoring? Or have I just been cleverly making sure that I keep my job? Please AL, help me see the moral course that I must follow.

  36. evenhanded librarian says:

    Kudos to you, LJ, for supporting a voice of dissent. If we are to have meaningful debate about the culture of libraries, about the nature of our discipline, it’s important that the unpopular voices be heard. So sad that so many representatives of a profession that claims to support intellectual freedom would quash the AL if they could. The people out there who think AL is a mere ”

  37. cut-off librarian says:

    gossip,” or that she should just shut up, are due for refresher courses in ethics themselves.

  38. Anon E Mus says:

    I think most of the objections are because of AL being anonymous, not because she has a dissenting opinion. Being anonymous does lead to a certain loss of credibility, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.

  39. AL says:

    A lot of people focus on the personality rather than the arguments. That way they don’t have to think at all.

  40. Kat says:

    Character assassination is very real even now. Didn’t John McCain’ election group say “this should be an election about personalities, not issues?” So yes, if AL did come out of the closet, some people might simply be happy. Other’s might simply then dismiss all of her discussion from that moment ont out because she just “Doesn’t understand” or somehow she doesn’t have the background necessary to make any assertions of weight. Finally, there are those who have enough hatred that they really would use it to make sure that AL would never find work in this field again. Our field is much smaller then you might think, especially if you consider the numbers that apply for each job opening that isn’t Part Time and without benefits. We’re free…to THINK like them.

  41. Big Rump says:

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that AL come out of the closet. But while she remains in the closet, she is free to rant, but that anonymity comes at a price of reduced credibility. Can’t have it both ways.

  42. Sgt Esterhaus says:

    Let’s be careful posting here.

    Unwanted comments will be removed.

  43. anonymous says:

    The radicals in the Social Responsibility Round Table must be squirming now that you have gone mainstream. Keep up the good work AL!

  44. Kat says:

    The truth is no less credible no matter who speaks it. It is still true. It was afterall the least credible person who declared that the emperor was wearing no clothes.

  45. John Berry, LJ says:

    When I read the Annoyed Librarian’s posting on September 22 posting on her old blog about how she had sold out to someone, and I tried to post a comment but I couldn’t get it to work. It would have ended with the cheap shot: “You know what they call people who do it for money.” I told Francine about my comment, and after she let out a short gasp, she said, “You don’t come in for our staff meetings, so you probably don’t know that it was us, Library Journal, who offered AL a contract to move her blog to LJ.” I was stunned, but in a second or two I realized what a coup Francine had pulled off. Annoyed Librarian probably has more readers than American Libraries.
    Of course, my first question to Francine was, “Well, who the hell is this cranky woman?” Francine was ready. “I don’t know,” she said, testing my belief in her credibility. “Only our lawyers know, and they talked to her spokesman.”
    So cranky AL, you now know one of the great advantages of corporate life; you get to hide behind our lawyers.
    Oh, by the way, AL, I’m still an editor at LJ, not a “former” one, even though I’m retired. I do my writing and editing for LJ like you, for pay. Unlike you I sign my real name to it.
    But just so no one thinks otherwise, I want everyone to know I am totally delighted that AL is writing for LJ. No, I don’t always agree with her, indeed, I rarely do. But, hell, I’ve been arguing with everyone at LJ since I started here, in 1964. My first job with Eric Moon began over a slightly inebriated argument with him in 1963. Nowadays I argue with Norman Oder and Bette-Lee Fox a lot, Andrew Albanese and Josh Hadro occasionally, and every so often I even get into it with Francine, Rebecca Miller, and across the line with some of our Book Review editors like Barbara Hoffert, Heather McCormack, Ann Kim, and Wilda Williams.
    Arguing has been a tradition at LJ since the beginning when Melvil Dewey was editor. In fact, he quit after an argument with R. R. Bowker and his partner, Frederick Leypoldt.
    I really disagree with all the posters who tell us that AL is “too negative.” I can’t believe librarians committed to free expression would want muzzle that unique voice. Shame on them.
    All of this is my personal welcome to the Annoyed Librarian. Welcome to our contentious old place. I look forward to arguing with you! To get started: Who the hell are you, anyway?!

  46. Rumpdaddy says:

    But there is no absolute truth. Besides, I don’t think AL is purporting to speak the truth, but her opinions. And opinions are greatly influenced by credibiltiy.

  47. Francine Fialkoff says:

    btw, LJ is not censoring comments or removing them.
    fialkoff@reedbusiness.com

  48. anonymous says:

    Interesting job turn for the AL. Doubtless, LJ thinks this will bring readers of AL to their web pages. Of course, no one knew that it was here since there is no RSS feed update. I have no plans on reading LJ everyday since there will is no RSS feed. This must be LJ’s way to kill a blog.

  49. THE Anonymous says:

    LJ should take it up a notch and reveal who the AL is. Then we would know this is on the up and up.

  50. Emily says:

    How much are they paying you, AL? I’ve been wondering over on my own utterly untrafficked library blog about the ins and outs of a commercial magazine failing to pay book reviewers. Word is, the magazine can’t afford it. This has me really wondering what they’re paying you. Can you disclose, or is your contract muzzled?

  51. Heather Ganshorn says:

    Here’s an idea for all you commenters with your knickers in a twist over AL’s secret identity. How about stowing your hypocrisy and your comments, unless you’re prepared to publish them under YOUR own names? Several of the commenters above are either Anonymous, or using pseudonyms (I assume BigRump is not your real name

  52. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    RSS feed, please! I’ll pass on LJ’s other electronic offerings.

  53. always anonymous says:

    I always felt that half of AL’s strength was in the comments, not just her posts and observations. That so many people feel the same way that she does, that the profession is not perfect, speaks volumes. I always thought it was a shame that the people in power were not hearing what those of us in the trenches were saying. It shouldn’t matter who the AL is. The reality is that she’s not a lone voice – others agree with her. So, thanks LJ for providing a place not just for AL’s voice to be heard, but for our comments to reach a wider audience as well. Fingers crossed that the people with the power to effect change will be reading.

  54. yoyoyo says:

    Instead of crossing fingers and wishing for things to happen, why not empower yourself to make changes. Hint: changes don’t occur as the result of anonymous blog postings.

  55. Kat says:

    yoyoyo, just a couple of days ago this was just an anonymous blog out in lala land. Today it is now tucked into the corner office of Library Journal. Anonymous blog postings are the empowerment of the faceless. And yes, they can change the world, one blogger at a time.

  56. AL says:

    What’s all this about removing comments? I’ve removed 2. One that merely duplicated the previous comment from the same commenter, as if they hit the button twice. The other referring to a commenting problem which I addressed, and which had nothing to do with the content of the post or the nature of the discussions.

  57. AL says:

    “changes don’t occur as the result of anonymous blog postings.” That may be, but the ALA Council passes fewer non-library related political resolutions these days, and it’s at least arguable that the AL has provided arguments and encouragement for opponents of those trying to politically hijack the ALA.

  58. yoyoyo says:

    “Today it is now tucked into the corner office of Library Journal.” And this is supposed to a sign of power? It’s just a sign of a corporation buying out it’s detractors. Real change happens when people put their jobs on the line.

  59. Thadeus Pimpernickel says:

    Oh no you didn’t. You just recycled an old post as your first for LJ. You’ll have to do better than that–new hires are always the first to go during lay-offs. Just sayin’.

  60. AL says:

    I’m finding all the comments on change and selling out kind of amusing. The comment about a corporation buying out it’s detractors is odd, since except for responding to some of John Berry’s criticisms, I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned LJ. And unlike American Libraries, LJ isn’t the journal representing the ALA, which I do often criticize. Obviously there’s just one post so far, but I don’t think it strays from the classic AL. The question is somewhat the same as one of anonymity. The AL is just words on a page. The arguments are just put out there. Do we evaluate them based on who the author is or where they’re located, or on their strength? Does the AL somehow have more “power” being hosted at LJ? I’m not even entirely sure there will be a lot more readers, since I have a lot of readers already. Interesting comments, though.

  61. AL says:

    AL impersonators will be deleted, btw.

  62. Jim B says:

    Congrats on getting an upwardly mobile position, AL–lord knows we all need supplemental income as librarians!

    But I disagree with your logic in this column. Yeah, it may be some ignorant rube trying to pull a book available for sale out of the library. But while he/she may not be a representative of the government, if we as librarians buckled to every call to pull a book out because it may be “questionable”, then we are allowing ignorant rubes to co-opt the power of government (since most of our libraries are government institutions) to censor materials.

    Allowing that would set a dangerous precedent, since certain groups with chips on their shoulders to push their worldview on the public focus on leaning on ‘grass roots’ organizations like rural schools and libraries.

    More to the point, these rural libraries are often in towns where there is no access whatsoever to book stores, or even if there are book stores, they may not carry controversial materials.

    “Yeah, yeah,” you say, “but what about Amazon?” Well, yes, that exists, but in rural places, not a lot of people have ready access to the Internet–except in the libraries. But if we give the ignorant rubes an inch, they’ll take the mile and do away with the Internet as well.

  63. yoyoyo says:

    What if the ignorant rubes are the ones running the library? Why is it assumed that all librarians are brilliant and anyone who objects to their actions is an ignorant rube? Seems like a pretty narrow-minded stance for a librarian.

  64. Liz says:

    Yay! I love ya, AL, and I’m glad that your brand of humor will reach even more people.

    To those of you who don’t like this, you don’t have to read the blog! You have the right to close the window.

  65. RCN says:

    Congrats on the salary, AL! But if you really have an office, won’t it be harder to retain your anonymity? Even if you don’t have an office, what if a disgruntled LJ employee who knows your identity leaves his/her position of employment and leaks your ID? Maybe it should it become a condition of LJ employment to not ever leak your ID. Inquiring minds may want to know, but I think that in this case ignorance is bliss.

    Keep up the good work,
    RCN, San Francisco Bay Area

  66. Ami Segna says:

    Yegads, I don’t WANT to know who AL is – that would no doubt ruin the picture in my mind.

    On the banned books week (remember the original topic), I am SOOOOO tired of saying over and over, “No, we don’t ban those books here, nothing is banned here, and nothing is banned across the country” blah blah blah. Why are we, the supposed vanguards of accurate information, using sensationalistic words to promote our products???

  67. Constant Reader says:

    Getting back to the matter at hand: look, AL, any action by a publicly funded government agency to restrict or suppress a book because of disapproval of its content or viewpoint is censorship. There’s no geographic limitation on a First Amendment violation, nor is the violation eliminated by a theoretical ability to obtain the book elsewhere. Illegal is illegal.

    I agree that selection is not censorship. A librarian, exercising his or her so-called professional expertise, can decide that a book is stupid and not purchase it for the library. But once that book is purchased – that is, once a member of the library’s paid staff decides that a book is suitable for the library’s collection – any attempt by a disgruntled citizen to get the library board – a government agency – to remove or suppress the book constitutes a First Amendment violation and censorship.

    So, yes, it is censorship when Mr. Y gets the library board to remove a book because Mr. Y doesn’t want my child, or anyone else’s child, reading about gay penguins. That book may not be suitable for Joe Doe’s child, but it may be suitable for mine – and I want to make that decision. Mr. Y’s politics, morals or religion shouldn’t trump professional collection development decisions nor my right to parent my own child. Nor should Mr. Y’s political, moral or relgious preferences be allowed to justify a First Amendment violation by the library board.

    Given that the public and school libraries serve the young and the poor, two groups who traditionally don’t have funds or the ability to access to bookstores, whether physical or online, it’s disingenuous to say that such censorship isn’t really censorship because you could hypothetically get the book somewhere else. The ability to buy the book in NYC or LA means little to the 14 year old dealing with questions about s-xual identity in Nebraska or South Dakota, where the library may be the only source for books and a broadband connection for miles around.

    You’re engaging in a dangerous word game that only plays into the hands of the zealots who would sanitize the public library until it only reflected their particular majoritarian viewpoints on politics, parenting, s-xuality, and religion.

  68. Constant Reader says:

    Speaking of restrictions, I had to remove the “e” from s-e-x before the board would let me post my comment. Not AL’s doing, but interesting, just the same…

  69. Forever Anon says:

    So, “any attempt by a disgruntled citizen to get the library board – a government agency – to remove or suppress the book constitutes a First Amendment violation and censorship.”

    I disagree with that for the simple fact that you’re being presumptious about the “disgruntled citizen’s” movtives. Sure, the majority of the time it could be they are against gay penguins or what not. Some of the time, and I have had this experience on several occasions, a patron will bring us a book that was overlooked during our weeding process and has extremely outdated information. By your statement, the library couldn’t remove such a book because the patron brought it to the librarian’s attention.

  70. MP says:

    I think they should change the title to Annoying Librarian. Unfortunately, there are so many things wrong with what you wrote, I am not sure where to begin. Needless to say, you are obviously writing anonymously so that your real life work will not be tainted by the substandard entries you post. A clever strategy to protect such unclever writing. I am thankful the profession, if not the world, is not full of unjustifiably disgruntled egoists like yourself.

  71. Constant Reader says:

    For ForeverAnon:

    I may not have repeated my full definition of censorship at each instance given the length limitations, but I did start out with it: censorship is any attempt to restrict or suppress a book because of disapproval of its content or viewpoint.

    A library board that removes a book because of an individual’s disapproval of the ideas or viewpoints in the book is not only censorship, but a First Amendment violation. That’s what I was addressing, not weeding, not requests to add to the collection, not collection development. And to pretend otherwise to attack the argument is a pretty lame attempt at obfuscation.

  72. yoyoyo says:

    Let’s not get carried away. If a library removes a book from its collection, whose first amendment rights are being violated?

  73. Kat says:

    Jim B, yoyoyo, others left unidenftified; you have both identified one end of the problem and on the other end there exists the opposite side to make this a perfect Logic Problem. This is like a chinese puzzle that simply does not have a solution. It’s trying to solve a paradox and it seems impossible, and it most likely is. Yoyoyo, if a library removes a book from the colleciotn and I can prove that this library is the only place I can personally access information, then I can show that my first amendments rights have been violated, or that somehow my access has been abridged. The latter is a crystal clear violation of ALA literature. I think we need to simply realize that we have a dual belief system in this country. First, we firmly believe in the idealisitc and incredibly liberal document that is the D of I, the Constitution and the B of R. We want to believe in out hearts the ALA definition of Censorship. But then we stop when we get to “the real world” and confront real life animosity. There we have fears, personal vendettas, personal politics, and many other things including no faith in humanity to play with in the real world. In short, ther eis not solution to the problem other then a huge digital library in the sky. I believe it will be here eventually; it will probably be owned by either google or amazon or something like them, and they will siphon off all the public library funds through tax breaks or something else they figure out with the feds.

  74. AL says:

    “I think they should change the title to Annoying Librarian.” Hey, that’s really clever! I’ve never heard that one before.

    Back to the topic. Part of the point is that the books are rarely removed in the first place. They’re merely “challenged.” Even if they are removed, it’s not a government agency “suppressing” them. But it’s a huge leap from a book being “challenged” to the claim that it’s then a “banned book” and that somehow constitutes censorship. I still say the censorship label is a way to make the OIF feel important, because since there’s hardly any actual government censorship to fight they need something to do.

  75. yoyoyo says:

    Please tell me which First Amendment right has been violated when a book is removed from the library. You don’t have a “right” to read a library book, anymore than you have a “right” to access a book on Amazon.

  76. soren faust says:

    MP’s fuzzy logic: Make accusation; do not back up with anything specific; change subject; cast off an ad hominem; complete argument.

    Brilliant work, MP!

  77. Dan Kleinman says:

    Welcome, AL, to the Annoyed Library Journal!

  78. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    AL said:

    “Since most book challenges seem to be about books for children, the argument becomes even more bizarre. So, EVERY book is suitable for children? Oh, even on the off chance some librarian actually removed a book, how does that suppress ideas for any of us? If a book is gone, does that really mean ‘no one else has the chance to read’ it? How dumb do you have to be to believe this stuff?”

    Bravo to Library Journal for hosting the AL’s blogs. What a refreshing breathe of fresh air–see what a shining spotlight can do.

    I have added this excellent blog to my own about what Thomas Sowell calls “National Hogwash Week.” “Shameless progaganda” is what Mr. Sowell calls BBW, and the AL confirms it. See preview.tinyurl.com/sowell

    Well said, AL.

  79. ConstantReader says:

    For Yoyoyo: Once a book is on the shelf in a publicly funded library – a government agency whose entire purpose is to provide the public with access to books and information – the First Amendment protects the user’s right to read and access that book and all the other information in the library. See federal court decisions in Kreimer v. Morristown Police, Sund v. City of Witchita Falls, Counts v Cedarville School Board, Case v. Unified School District, Board of Education v. Pico and other federal court decisions that uphold a First Amendment right to access books and receive information in the library. And while the right to receive infomation in the library is an important part of the legal argument against censorship, the core question is whether a government agency can legally restrict access to, or remove a book that is already available to the public in the library because someone doesn’t like the book’s views, opinions, or ideas. The courts overwhelmingly say no.

  80. Alaska Hottie says:

    Did you see the outfit Palin was wearing last night? Awesome! She’s going to make a great VP.

  81. Dissenter says:

    We should be careful to keep track of who is doing what. J. Random Patron objecting to a book in the collection is not censorship — J. has no power to remove the book. A librarian does have that power, and in a public library that power derives from the state’s decision to fund public libraries (which gives the state at least theoretical influence over the librarian’s decisions by way of employment). For said librarian to acquiesce to such a demand by J. for the removal of a book also paid for (and perhaps appreciated) by A., B., and C. without any evidence of the work’s inaccuracy *is* IMHO censorship, as is any similar abuse of public power. It is the abuse of collective power to enforce an individual’s preference on all which makes censorship wrong.

  82. open mind says:

    So what if it is more than one individual? What if 5,000 patrons want a book removed and another 2,000 patrons want it to stay. Does a librarian have the ability to make a collection management decision (based on patron feedback) without worrying about the censorship police?

  83. rossaroni says:

    –Whew–1800 words and I’m still trying to find a coherent argument here. OK, so the ALA’s promotion of Banned Books Week is self-serving, and maybe the ALA itself is self-serving and * gosh * isn’

  84. The Rock says:

    Congratulations AL! After reading recent LJ editor comments about book banning, censorship and the Palin, I so welcome your refreshingly candid POV. Be afraid, be very afraid, LJ editors!

  85. oneblankspace says:

    Rumpdaddy commented:
    But there is no absolute truth.

    So there is absolutely no absolute truth? or just in most cases?

  86. Rumpdaddy says:

    The fact that the statement “there is no absolute truth” can not be proven absolutely further points out the accuracy of the original statement that there is no absolute truth.

  87. AL4PREZ says:

    Rave on, rave on…

  88. padriec says:

    I like the word “rube” as much as anyone, but jeez:

    1 thesaurus results for: rube
    Synonym Collection v1.1
    Main Entry: rube
    Part of Speech: noun
    Synonyms: boor, bumpkin, clodhopper, dolt, hayseed, hick, hillbilly, jake, redneck, yokel

  89. Library Mermaid says:

    I’m sorry but the comment from someone calling themselves “Big Rump” saying by posting anonymously, AL isn’t credible, had me doubled over. The comments with their mix of uptight, amused, righteous, and knickers in a twist is fabulous.

  90. Library Mermaid says:

    I’m sorry but the comment from someone calling themselves “Big Rump” saying by posting anonymously, AL isn’t credible, had me doubled over. The comments with their mix of uptight, amused, righteous, and knickers in a twist is fabulous.

  91. library school student says:

    What is Banned Books Week?

  92. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    AL, get a load of what the ALA just said about the topic you raised:

    “A Pet Peeve,” by Doug Archer, OIF Blog [ALA], 17 June 2009.

    http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=319

    AL, you are apparently guilty of “Chutzpah!”

  93. fuck you says:

    fuck you