Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians "Censor" Statutory Rape Book

Once again I’m writing about silly censorship claims. I might stop writing about this if silly people stopped complaining that books which are widely available for purchase are somehow "censored" or, better yet, "banned."

The latest trumped-up controversy is about some kid’s novel called Boy Toy which is apparently about statutory rape. You can read all about the alleged controversy in the School Library Journal. I haven’t read the book, because I’m a grown up and thus read great big grown up books, so I don’t know if the statutory rape is a good thing or bad thing. Some 12-year-old boy has sex with a teacher twice his age. Is it good for him? Bad for him? Do we really even care? I don’t, but I’m assuming it’s a bad thing. When I was that age I don’t remember wanting to have sex with any of my teachers, even though my eighth grade English teacher was sort of hunky, but the kid’s grow up so fast these days it’s hard to tell. 

The guy who wrote the statutory rape kid’s novel apparently wanted some controversy, at least according to the article. "When Barry Lyga finished writing his second young adult novel, he knew there’d be trouble." Knew!  "After all, Boy Toy was about a 12-year-old who has sex with a beautiful teacher twice his age, and Lyga expected it to spark letters to local papers, trigger complaints to the school board, and incite some parents to yank it off library shelves." I just can’t understand these people who write stuff hoping to be controversial and trigger complaints and discussion. I really don’t.

Lyga should be satisfied, though, because the only one complaining seems to be him. Though the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times loved the book, it seems that librarians and bookstores in the rural backwaters that make up so much of the rest of this great nation aren’t buying it or are stocking it with adult books or some such thing. "Kids weren’t getting the book because adults weren’t letting them get the book," the author says. Oh, those mean old adults! Then of course he goes on to call it censorship. He had to say something to drum up discussion once he realized no one was buying his rape novel, I suppose. He could have just written about something less provocative than rape or maybe left out the "erotic" scenes, but that would have been the coward’s way out! Instead, better to write rape books and then complain that people don’t buy them. Cry me a river, liberal.

The SLJ article, or opinion column really, uses this tawdry tale as a hook to hang a hand-wringing exercise bemoaning "self censorship." Lordy . "Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think." Oh no!

So a librarian not buying a book is censorship? My goodness, that means that for most school libraries just about everything is censored. Those school librarians who decide not to buy rape books are just evil censors, I suppose. It might be a secret, but is it really dirty? I’m not even going to go into the fractured logic of censorship that the ALA employs when discussing nonsense like this. Anyone who thinks Internet porn is "intellectual" isn’t really playing with a full logical deck anyway, so the game’s just not fair to them. Let’s look just at the pragmatic side of this, at the worst case scenario for not buying rape books and other fun stuff.

I’m going to ignore the moral reasons one might employ not to buy a book like this, and ignore the obvious rejoinder to the spurned author that his book is published and available for purchase, so nothing is censored. If it was such hot stuff, people would be ordering it from Amazon. It’s not that popular, so he’s no doubt trying to spark some controversy hoping people start buying it to see what all the hubbub is about. But we won’t discuss this.

Instead, according to the article, lots of librarians don’t buy crap like this because they’ll face vigorous complaints from parents about the books. It’s funny we don’t hear so much as a whimper from these people if someone doesn’t stock controversial books on Islam because they’re afraid of being bombed, but then again complaining parents are much less scary than murderous religious fanatics, so it’s easier to defend "intellectual freedom" from them.

We all know that it’s terrible for parents to complain about any book that the New York Times or the ALA-OIF likes. You can easily detect the snide disdain for concerned parents in a quote from one author regarding a book that used the word "fucking" (it’s right there in the SLJ article, but don’t try that in the comments section of this blog, boys and girls!): "These parents don’t want to believe that their little darlings know this vocabulary so they edit reality." Yep, that must be it. That’s probably the same reason most parents (at least that I’m aware of) don’t say "fuck" when dining with their children. It’s because they don’t want to believe the "little darlings" know words like this. Has absolutely nothing to do with decorum or a resistance to vulgarity. Nothing at all!

Anyway, so it seems some concerned parents complain about books and despite what the ALA tells them somehow think that not everything is appropriate for children to read. I’m sorry, for their "little darlings" to read. Sometimes these complaints can be quite outrageous, it’s true. Take this story, for example:

"As someone who made ALA’s list of the 10 most frequently challenged authors of 2007, Lauren Myracle knows what it’s like to be the target of organized attacks by censors. Her ttyl (Abrams, 2004), which contains vulgar language and descriptions of sex, teen drinking, and an improper student-teacher relationship, is intended for highschoolers . But a middle school librarian in Round Rock, TX, thought it was appropriate for her older students, a decision that angered a group of parents who sentMyracle hate mail, called her a pornographer and a pedophile, and prayed that she be rescued from Satan.
     "Some of these parents can be so relentless in their attacks, and the attacks are personal," says Myracle, whose book was ultimately pulled by the school superintendent who circumvented the formal review process."

The reaction here was certainly outrageous. The outrage is palpable. There’s no indication at all that Myracle is a pedophile, for example, and that complaint was just thrown in to be mean. But a pornographer? Well, aren’t sex scenes pornography? I’m not knocking them. I like a well written sex scene as much as anyone, but if we take the etymological route – and as librarians the etymological route should be one of our favorite paths – then pornography is "writing about sex." So it looks like Myracle really is a pornographer after all. As far as praying that she’ll be rescued from Satan, I’m not sure what to say. Except for the implied self-satisfied hypocrisy of the fundamentalist bigot who strikes at the mote in someoneelse’s eye while ignoring the beam in her own, is that really so bad? I don’t want to end up with Satan, even just at a nice formal dinner, and if someone’s prayers will keep me from that so much the better. (Note, by the way, the language of the article. "Attacks by censors." So much for journalistic objectivity.)

There are other stories of "attacks by censors" in the article. One junior high school librarian in Backwater USA says, "I’ve had friends who’ve lost their jobs, had their marriages destroyed, developed mental and physical illnesses due to the stress of having their collection-development decisions challenged formally, informally, or even merely questioned." If that’s true, and I’m not questioning it, that’s some serious stuff, or some of it is. If having your collection development decision "merely" questioned destroys your marriage or your sanity, they probably weren’t that strong in the first place, frankly.

Why exactly should librarians feel bad or "dirty" then for not buying a book if that’s what they might face? Are these school librarians paid enough to deal with this garbage? Is it really worth it? Does it matter that much? These librarians make very rational decisions. "This is a vulgar book. If I buy it, I could be harassed incessantly by rubes. I’ll pass on this one." Indeed, especially for the rural backwater librarians, not to follow this logic would be a sign of irrationality.

And please don’t come back with any of the standard arguments against librarians not buying vulgar books. They’re shopworn and their spines are creased. Don’t say, for example, "first they come for the books with vulgar language and I did nothing. Then they come for the books with sex in them and I did nothing. And when they came for me, there were no vulgar sex books left to protect me!" These books are out there. They’re published. The complainers seem to think that librarians don’t exist in the real world or that their actions will have no consequences.

There’s also the standard response about concerned parents trying to make decisions for everyone. But they also claim every book that an author or review journal claims is written for a particular audience is actually appropriate for that audience. It might be, but that still involves adults making decisions about what is appropriate for children; they just don’t like it when other people try to get in on the game. The argument is never about whether adults make the decisions about who gets to read what. That’s just malarkey. The argument is over which adults get to make those decisions. The authors? The ALA? Or local librarians responsive to local parents concerns? Typically, the complaint is that someone you don’t know living somewhere you don’t live doesn’t buy a book you think they should. Oh, the horror!

And please don’t start talking about intellectual freedom. I’ve yet to see an even remotely compelling argument that if any given book isn’t available in a school library that anyone’s intellectual anything is compromised. It’s easy for the ALA-OIF or for authors to whine about how awful it is that libraries aren’t buying more tawdry books for kids. It’s harder out in the real world beyond the confines of ALA headquarters. There’s nothing courageous about writing or buying a kid’s book that has graphic sex or swearing or whatever it is that people object to. There’s nothing particularly intellectual about any of these books, and picking one of them as the hill to die is a fool’s game.

As the SLJ writer says, "The truth is, no one ever really knows which books might end up changing a kid’s life, helping him find comfort, or gaining a better understanding of a subject." If that’s the case, why do we assume that the books that might end up changing lives are the ones with sex scenes and vulgar language? The OIF says, "Who knows? That very book that you thought was inappropriate may be the one that turns a child in the direction that he needs to be going or that gives a child quiet hope about a situation."

Then again, it probably won’t be.

Share

Comments

  1. Library Goddess says:

    10yr HS librarian here. Amen. Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean I have to buy it. If you want to read it so badly either go buy it yourself or lobby somebody to increase my funding so I can afford to buy the book that will be stolen anyway.

  2. Vegans For Meat says:

    My friend “dated” my health teacher in high school. He was 16 and she was 30 something. It was strange having her around outside of the context of school and “health education.”

  3. Ron Paul says:

    I also had a high school friend who was invited to our cute Spanish teacher’s house for dinner. He was 14 and she was 24. They both really liked The Cure, so it was all good.

  4. yikes says:

    You write “kid’s” when you mean “kids.” Now I’m annoyed.

  5. Knee Jerk Liberal For Better School Libr says:

    There is no one answer. The need to pick and choose how to spend a limited budget has nothing to with liberal or conservative. With unlimited budgets we might be more willing to purchase books of questionable taste. Our department does rate & approve books district-wide. That means we do censor. We need to! We have very limited budgets, and before we by 2, 10 or 40 copies of any book, it had better — at least — be good and it had better fit our mission. We didn’t buy Boy-Toy, and we gave our (purchased) review copy to the Public Library -which has a different mission than we do, and our teacher-librarians refer students there all of the time for books that we don’t carry.

  6. S. Liston says:

    “Censorship” has a well established legal definition. AL argues that we should embrace that definition and stop calling pragmatic collection development decisions censorship. Okay, yay — I’m all for that. AL goes on to insinuate that bandying about “censorship” in this fashion is a weasely misuse of the word. Again, I agree. But a couple paragraphs later, AL whips up a definition of perngraphy (sic, LJ filter) that’s in no way consistent with established legal doctrine. This novel doesn’t come close to fitting into the legal criterion that would be used in a “censorship” case, and AL’s definition is even looser than the dictionary definition.

    If we’re going with historical dictionary definitions, to “censor” is simply to suppress objectionable material, right? The how or by whom is not spelled out. But in addition to having a narrow legal definition, it’s an emotionally laden word. We shouldn’t be throwing it around lightly. Likewise, we shouldn’t accuse people of being pernographers (sic) lightly.

    This is a good discussion to have, but dressing it up in sarcasm and mean spirited attacks is detrimental to achieving anything. It fosters ill will, and it makes us look bad. So let’s see if we can raise the level of discussion here, okay?

  7. Detached Amusement says:

    It looks like the author intended controversy to sell this. Whoopee…..I’m underwhelmed. Trot out Judith Krug with her by now canned speech on censorship when someone in South Podunk complains. Haven’t we been here before? At the same time that we’d be having ALA defending the stalking horse, there are plenty of even more important matters that go by the wayside.
    What about the librarian outed in a secret meeting in Wisconsin? What about THE LIBRARY DIARIES?

  8. Goose and Gander says:

    Perhaps we should allow concerned parents and taxpayers to parse the collections of academic libraries.

  9. RL says:

    Of course not every title that a parent wants removed from the school library is necessarily quite as lurid as the example AL provides.

    Parent petitions Muscogee County School District to ban war novel. The books is My Brother Sam is Dead, and evidently has 14 uses (or variations) of the word “damn”. – from the February 20th, 2009, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

    I would love to provide the link, but ev

    So… if a book is challenged, and ultimately removed from the collection, what should we call it since, evidently, “banned” is just too silly. codex non grata? Disappeared? Prohibited? Displaced? Oohhh.. how about delocalized. Or maybe we can just go Soviet style and pretend it never had been in the collection.

    If it is next to impossible to truly “ban” a book, because of the book’s availability elsewhere, why should they be removed? Why even have a challenge form? Just tell the upset parent that it really doesn’t make a difference since it is really impossible to ban a book, and removing it is just a waste of time and resources.

  10. Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

    As I recall, the tattered copy of “Wifey” by Judy Bloom must have gone through at least a dozen or more teenage female hands prior to me reading it in my Freshman year of High School. But I’m sure it was “censored” by my school librarian, since we couldn’t find a copy in the HS Library!

    There was one confusing part of the novel that I did have to look up. I’d never hear of ‘mocha’ cake before…

  11. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    Dan Gerstein once wrote, “The … elites have convinced themselves that they are taking a stand against cultural tyranny. …. [T]he reality is that it is those who cry ‘Censorship!’ the loudest who are the ones trying to stifle speech and force their moral world-view on others.”

    Source: “Why the Democrats Are Losing the Culture Wars,” by Dan Gerstein, Wall Street Journal, 11 April 2005.

    I’d say more but in comments to the previous AL post, some who obviously disagreed with me suggested I self-censor.

  12. RL says:

    Some other quotes from that same article by Gerstein:

    “In this, the cultural elites are guilty of the very sin of silly oversimplification of which they frequently (and rightly) accuse conservatives.”

    “… whether the common space should be governed by some social (not legal) norms and standards.”

    “The solution to this cultural conundrum is not to go overboard and mimic the “Happy Days” conservatives, whose latest misguided and unconstitutional plan is to regulate cable content.”

    He’s concerned about the “cultural environment we all share, what gets said and done in the public square for all to hear and see…”, yet one of his concrete examples of cultural failure is Grand Theft Auto. A game that is, primarily, played in the home, not in the “public square for all to hear and see…”.

    I think his statement about “Happy Days” conservatives is precisely why Republicans are just as likely to lose the culture wars.

    Source: “Why the Democrats Are Losing the Culture Wars,” by Dan Gerstein, Wall Street Journal, 11 April 2005.

  13. zardok says:

    Does no one read these comments? Third paragraph, first line! “kids novel”, not “kid’s novel”!

  14. Hero says:

    How interesting that this should be the current topic. I was just stopping by to see if the AL had heard about the latest in Topeka.
    cjonline.com/ stories/ 022009/ loc_395979087.shtml
    The library’s board of trustees voted 5-3 Thursday evening in favor of restricting minors’ access to ”

  15. Hero says:

    Frakking LJ filter. The rest of the quote in my previous comment deals with restricting access to books about s3x.

  16. Library Observer says:

    “There are other stories of “attacks by censors” in the article. One junior high school librarian in Backwater USA says, “I’ve had friends who’ve lost their jobs, had their marriages destroyed, developed mental and physical illnesses due to the stress of having their collection-development decisions challenged formally, informally, or even merely questioned.” If that’s true, and I’m not questioning it, that’s some serious stuff, or some of it is. If having your collection development decision “merely” questioned destroys your marriage or your sanity, they probably weren’t that strong in the first place, frankly.” I think this is being a bit hard. First of all, many folks are led to believe in library school that there’s something noble about “fighting” censorship cases. In the real world the same librarian will probably find themselves set up and abandoned by their former mentors and library colleages, and ALA itself, when it comes to the crunch. Based on what I’ve seen in another case, I can imagine some library prof. saying, “we can’t get involved”, even before being asked. Second of all, in too many libraries they can “out” someone with charges that are vague or don’t pertain to a censorship case, and even do it to a librarian behind their back. You can end up like the woman who wrote THE LIBRARY DIARIES, or the Wisconsin librarian who was dumped in a meeting for which there are no recorded minutes.
    ALA can be the proverbial “Paper Tiger” when it comes to some matters like this, and so can state library associations. I know of one state library assn. in the South that “sandbagged” one of its members who was giving talks across the state about how to deal with censorship matters, after giving this individual the green light to do so. I think one would need to know the particulars of the case before slamming the librarian in question. It’s all too easy to be led on then be left to “twist in the wind”, when push comes to shove.

  17. Alex says:

    “Outraged Author Fails to Cause Controversy” should be the title for this story. Why this is even making library news I have no idea. Have we now decided that local librarians are incapable of making their own collection development decisions?

  18. a person says:

    Yes, apparently.

  19. the.effing.librarian says:

    off-topic, but babe, you are gonna love this: Outrage of Video Showing Librarians’ Playing Video Games On The Clock, hxxp://www.action3news.com/Global/story.asp?S=9900719

  20. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    Effing, my opinion is the librarians were properly using taxpayer money. Setting the issue of library gaming aside, gaming is allowed, even encouraged, in public libraries. The librarians need to understand the service they are providing, in this case games, and they need training on its use–in other words they get to play the games. By using librarians to produce a training video, the librarians actually protected the state from possible lawsuits related to the photographing of actual patrons and any incidents related thereto. Yes, the video is entertaining, but that only means it is an effective video, and that means the librarians used the state money effectively.

  21. Brent says:

    Not only are they censoring that book from the students, but teachers, too…. That video game story made my day.

  22. Anonymous in NYC says:

    I think Soviet is the perfect adjective for Annoyed’s argument. It hides its lust for censorship and tight control behind the cloak of pragmatism.
    As well, I looked over the Lyga book and thought it was well written and that many kids would appreciate the story. Children have a greater understanding than some in our profession give them credit for–especially Annoyed who does not give kids any credit. As some kids are s*xually aware at earlier ages than others and are beginning to become interested in self pleasure and s*xual attraction, not to take these facts into account in your collection development policy is negligent. The Lyga book does this tastefully and with sensitivity. Remember Ranganathan: every book its reader and every reader his or her book.

  23. No. 6 says:

    Regarding gaming librarians in NE: An 11 page audit and a 6 person commission certainly seems an appropriately proportional response to the alleged infraction – which seems to not have actually been an infraction but rather a slow news day in Omaha. Glad to see that the state watchdogs are spending tax dollars wisely.

  24. sidney says:

    The AL as Soviet censor? Interesting idea. Maybe she could share a cocktail with the regressives and compare strategy notes.

  25. Andrew says:

    Hi there,

    For what it’s worth, I’m a librarian, but I was also a judge for the Inky Awards, which is a teen literature award, based in Australia, and run by the Australian Centre for Youth Literature.

    Boy Toy came highly regarded by our panel, as one of the final three in the international category for 2007-2008. Yes, it does deal with very sensitive material, but it’s hardly racy or tittilation. If anything, it’s somewhat discomforting and confronting – but certainly no worse than your average Judy Blume or Robert Cormier novels of the 70s and 80s.

    I’m not going to go so-far as to call it “censorship”, but it’s certain narrow-minded for a librarian to judge a book on its subject-headings. And it’s true that it hasn’t made the bestseller lists. If we only stocked our libraries with bestsellers, there’d be a substantial lack of depth in our collections.

  26. Mr. Kat says:

    you know, here we pitter patter on about things that are trivial and mindless. meanwhile the market falls 100 points a day on a daily basis, the rest of the world is getting shakey, and really important things like hurricanes and earthquakes are happening…you know what I mean? Go ahead, cry about all those things you DON’T have….just because you can’t pony up the money to buy EVERYTHING you want…

    It’s not censorship to NOT BUY the book!

  27. RL says:

    Mr Kat -

    Thank you so much for taking time away from addressing important national and international issues.

    I know it just seems silly that we want to discuss issues that have some importance to librarians in, of all places, a blog in the online edition of Library Journal.


    Perhaps if you talk to AL really nicely, she'll blog about the deteriorating international situation and what we can all do about it as librarians. You don't happen to belong to SRRT do you?

    Dude – get a clue.

  28. Mr. Kat says:

    RL, I’m just saying…


    In the grand scheme of things, these issues are little more then a breeze of the summer.

    We’re crying about what books are not being bought and calling that censorship…this cry is decades old.

    Meanwhile we are a field of diluted degrees, closing libraries, vanishing job security, budget cuts, amidst a society rapidly changing with technology that could give a rat’s colon about whether libraries live or die.

    And meanwhile we stare at the wall and say “We the Librarian know all, better than you – including Google.”

    We have jsut provided authors with a new avenue; first, write a raunchy book targeted at controversial groups. Next, sell said book. Now, when book sells poorly, complain very vocally about how libraries are censoring your work by not putting it on their shelves – oh my, now every library MUST jump up and get a copy, right???

    Dude, I got a clue – and it says Professor Plum was in the Conservatory getting happy with the Pipe…

  29. RL says:

    Mr Kat –

    Think about the irony of criticizing people on this blog for complaining about the “trivial and mindless.” Seriously.

    I actually agree that not buying a book is necessarily censorship. But, I think there is value in discussing it and periodically returning to the issue.

  30. Mr. Kat says:

    yes, I know…we’re in a trivially mindless profession…oh the irony…hehehe

    The only thing is persay, is that the issue of faculty status, the issue of Library School Faux Degree, the issue of libary closures; the issue of stagnant technology; the issue of reliance on third party subscriptions to databases in place of revamping MARC; Do you see what I’m saying?

    This issue has not changed and it will never change. Libraries will put on their shelves the first books that are put in their hands, whether by donation or by what ever means of selection they use – and that typically isn’t going to go further than a couple catalogs pushed by publishers.

    The only way we could call this censorship, in a convoluted sense, is if a parton makes a request for the book and we refuse – but that is not the issue, now is it?

  31. RL says:

    I do understand, it was just the presentation I was objecting to.

    However, since this is AL’s blog, I would either make suggestions to her that she address more important library issues, or you start your own blog and address them.

    But isn’t it nice that we all get to decide for ourselves what is and what is not important?

  32. Brian says:

    I love the AL, but she would call other sort of selection based on such considerations “political correctness” as she all but admits when she hypothetically imagines a library failing to stock a book critical of Islam. I bet if we found a story of a librarian not stocking a book deemed to be insensitive to Islam, she would accuse the selector of PC censorship and caving to multiculturalist pressure. I agree with her, but don’t see her being consistent regardless of the political content of that being excluded.