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"Banned" Books in Fake Lockers

By now you might have read about the kid allegedly running a library of "banned" books out of his locker at a Catholic school. (It’s been making the rounds of blogs and lists and a kind reader sent it on to me as well.) It begins as a question on Yahoo Answers, but it’s obviously a question that no one really wants an answer to: "Is it OK to run an illegal library from my locker at school?" In addition to being a fake question, the phrasing of the question is almost nonsensical. After all, if the behavior in question is actually illegal, then it’s probably not okay. Compare: "Is it OK to run an illegal heroin sales operation from my locker at school?"

However, we’re not really talking about anything that’s illegal, just supposedly prohibited by the school. "Let me explain. I go to a private school that is rather strict. Recently, the principal and school teacher council released a (very long) list of books we’re not allowed to read."

This is the point at which I began to suspect that the questioner was either an idiot or a liar. Books the children aren’t allowed to read? Exactly how would that be enforced? This is followed by a list of classics and kid’s books and some popular trashy reading. In the list are The Canterbury Tales and The Divine Comedy. Yeah, that seems likely. Why are these books allegedly forbidden? "Most of the books were banned because they contained information that opposed Catholisism." Passing over the fact that we have an alleged Catholic school student who doesn’t know how to spell Catholicism, how likely is it that a Catholic school would ban The Divine Comedy? This would be like some rube evangelical school banning the King James Version of the Bible.

So what does this alleged kid allegedly do? Set up a library from his locker, where he loans out all of these books. "I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list." Just how big are the lockers in this school? Assuming approximately ten books per foot, supposedly this kid has the equivalent of six feet of shelving in his locker, though no doubt the alleged popularity of his alleged library gives his locker a bit of breathing space.

If this doesn’t already sound implausible enough, consider the profile of the asker: "About me:  Hey. My name is Katniss, and I am a writer. Lately I’ve been working on screenplays–my cousin said if they were any good he’d help me get them made into films–, but I much prefer novels. Nothing published yet, but I’ve had a few companies say that they’re interested in one novel I’m currently writing!" In addition to writing novels, Katniss also likes to write bogus Yahoo Answers questions.

The answers and comments are insufferably stupid. Here’s the "best" answer, as chosen by Katniss. "This is freaking fantastic. I can’t even explain how amazing I think you are. Technically, you’re breaking school rules and you could get into trouble for this "shady business" but I think it’s well worth it. Keep doing it. Years from now, you’ll be able to look back on this and go, "Man, was I cool." (Some of us can only say that for attempting to break a world record and failing.) I have so much respect for you and I don’t even know you." This is pretty typical for the level of both questions and answers on Yahoo Answers, which seems to be a community of nitwits.

The kind reader who sent this on to me thinks it’s a hoax and said it’s been making the rounds of library listservs, with librarians of course praising the person and apparently at least one suggesting a "full ride MLS." though I’m not sure if that was to be a form of praise or punishment for the kid. I suspect Katniss might already be a librarian given the large number of questions he’s answered on Yahoo Answers. This was probably an attempt to make librarians cool to high school students. I doubt it worked. Or perhaps Katniss is an undercover agent for the OIF.

So, the question is, are there really librarians out there stupid enough to believe this happened? Obviously there were people reading the initial question who were stupid enough to believe it, but that’s unsurprising given the intellectual quality of the Yahoo Answers community. 

And if you’re not stupid enough to believe it happened, is it something worth discussing at all? Is it the sort of false event that at least allows us to gain a lesson from it, or is it so implausibly stupid that we can learn nothing at all even by talking about it? I suspect it’s the latter, in which case I wonder what those librarians who enjoyed the story and are praising it got out of it. The only thing I got out of it was a blog post.

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Comments

  1. Mr. Kat says:

    Or perhaps katniss is writing a book about a catholic kid running a library of illegal books out of a large luxurious locker of likes we haven’t seen for decades…and writer’s block has sunk in and hesheit needs a little world feedback ont eh very plausibility/world response/world view on this sort of behavior…

  2. Anonymous says:

    The unusual name Katniss is the name of the heroine in the popular YA book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

  3. 6ds35 says:

    Boy, things really do slow in academia between the end of classes and the start of the summer conference circuit.

    This is the most annoying thing in your professional life that you can blog about?
    br>How sad.

  4. Feuquieres reader says:

    “Is it the sort of false event that at least allows us to gain a lesson from it, or is it so implausibly stupid that we can learn nothing at all even by talking about it?”

    Probably the latter.

  5. Picard says:

    It’s probably some do-gooder liberal. I’m going to ban a bunch of books at my library just for spite.

  6. Do-gooder libreral says:

    Yeah, those do-gooders are the worst. Don’t you just hate people that do good?

  7. the.effing.librarian says:

    I sold beer from my locker… what the hell was I thinking?

  8. apocalypselibrarian says:

    6ds35 commented:
    “Boy, things really do slow in academia between the end of classes and the start of the summer conference circuit.

    “This is the most annoying thing in your professional life that you can blog about? How sad.”

    THIS.

  9. Whiner says:

    After all, if the behavior in question is actually illegal, then it’s probably not okay. Compare: “Is it OK to run an illegal heroin sales operation from my locker at school?”
    Well, this was at a Catholic school, and they’ve got a whole set of rules. You never know.

  10. Martin says:

    I definitely thought this story was b.s. from the get go. It just had a Harlem Globetrotter slam dunk feel to it.

  11. Kristen says:

    The part that really irritated me about this is that by the time it hit the library blogs, it had already been pretty thoroughly debunked in the comments. And yet it was being forwarded around by the library community as gloriously true. We keep hearing about how librarians need to prove they’re still relevant, and how one of those ways is by pointing out the lack of information literacy in the general public and how they need to be taught not to believe everything they read online. Reputable sources and all. But when it’s an exciting intellectual freedom story, they don’t follow their own procedures. There’s some credibility.

  12. Privateer6 says:

    I also believe it’s a hoax. I went to Catholic school and read most of these books as part of classes. Also 62 books i a locker, sorry that screams hoax to me.

    Finally one obvious book that is overlooked in this hoax is Last Temptation of Christ. When they made the movie, tons of people wanted it banned. Yet I was in a Catholic HS and reading it.

  13. Andrew says:

    “And if you’re not stupid enough to believe it happened, is it something worth discussing at all?”

    No. Next topic, please!

  14. Fat and Grumpy says:

    As “Amen” to Kristen. No one seems more inclined to embrace hoaxes than librarians, fearful of every virus report, celebrating anything resembling free speech.

  15. sidney says:

    If the stories about libraries are happy stories, they must be true! So there’s no reason not to be credulous.

  16. D7cn2 says:

    Yet this was a story of a smelly locker so I say it stinks

  17. Marshal Auverquerque says:

    If you’re going to design such a hoax, at least gear it a little better towards the gullible buffoons who will lap it up. For example, the kind of librarians who got all hot-and-happy about this would have frolicked in their buffoonery even more if the student had been a political progressive involved in various green causes, understanding for alternative lifestyles, etc. and attending not a Catholic school, but a school affiliated with an evangelical protestant demonination. I think the political polarization in that case would rise to the characiture-like level that the frolicking buffoons seems to enjoy the most.

  18. Kazoo Kid says:

    Oh-h-h-h. “Banned books.” When I first heard about this story I thought they were saying “Band books” and I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about.

  19. No. 6 says:

    I am continually surprised that librarians, who should be the most discerning of information consumers, fall for things like this. That should be the topic of discussion.

  20. Marshal Auverquerque says:

    Seriously, get a cultural anthropologist to look at something like this…it’s not so much that the librarians actually believe it. What’s more important is the ritual of collective self-affirmation they get from yammering back and forth to each other about how wonderful and courageous the kid is. Many of them probably know the story isn’t credible but its credibility isn’t important. It’s the social meaning that’s important. Basically, it makes them feel good about themselves regardless of it veracity. So even if they know it’s not true they don’t really care. Insecure people feeling better about themselves is more important than verifiable accuracy.

  21. Solan says:

    I can only echo what others have said — we claim that we need to teach information literacy, but when a story like this pops up, library bloggers take the bait and take it at face value without even bothering to check its veracity. How are we supposed to then go, with a straight face, and ask that our libraries be supported because we’re needed to help people navigate information and steer them toward credible sources?

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Marshal Auverquerque. It’s probably more of a fascination with the idea that if this were true then this would be one cool kid. At least he would be cool to librarians which is to say he would not be very cool at all. If this fictional kid wants to increase the circulation figures for his library, he should also stock some glossy “adult” magazines.

  23. NEJC says:

    Speaking of credulity…

    How many librarian blogs picked this up, exactly? The comments to the Yahoo question were more than a little ridiculous, but we can hardly blame sunny librarian bloggers for those. Let’s moderate our invective before we pillory our colleagues, shall we?

  24. bacon says:

    Running a library from his locker, huh? Wonder if s/he has enough room for the guitar hero, smelly homeless people and soiled couches?

  25. Daniel Granados says:

    I can’t believe how many librarians were too stupid to do some basic fact checking.

  26. zardok says:

    Vaguely interesting side note: If you question the utility of Yahoo Answers on Yahoo Answers, you get banned. Well, experience is the best teacher.