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Banned Books in Brooklyn

Ahh, the irony. Yesterday, I got an email telling me to prepare for Banned Books Week (or BBW, as it’s sometimes known). Then I read my morning paper only to discover an article about challenged books at the Brooklyn Public Library. Boy, I thought, those ALA marketing people are at the top of their game this time, getting an article about challenged books in the Paper of Record just as they’re preparing for BBW.

Instead of the usual snoozefest about how librarians defend offensive books and are the saviors of civilization, we are treated to a story of the Brooklyn Public Library basically not defending an offensive book. Tintin au Congo has been removed from the circulating collection because a patron found it "offensive to black people." So much for intellectual freedom! From the NYT:

"’It’s not for the public,’ a librarian in the children’s room said this month when a patron asked to see it.

The book, published 79 years ago, was moved in 2007 from the public area of the library to a back room where it is held under lock and key….

‘This is a special collection of historic children’s literature that is available for viewing by appointment only’ the library said in a letter explaining its decision."

Not for the public! Yeah, it’s "special" and "historic," which is why it’s easily available from Amazon. Usually special collections are designed to protect rare or special volumes. It seems this one is designed to protect delicate library patrons.

The ALA gets quoted, at least. "’Policies should not unjustly exclude materials and resources even if they are offensive to the librarian or the user,’’ says the Web site of the American Library Association, which adds, ‘Toleration is meaningless without tolerance for what some may consider detestable.’" In Brooklyn I guess tolerance doesn’t extend very far. According to the article, the library has had 11 challenges since 2005, but this is the only book to be removed from the stacks.

So it seems the ALA marketing people aren’t at the top of their game. One person complains that a 70 year old French cartoon book is offensive, and suddenly that book is "not for the public" and removed from circulation. One might expect this down in Rubeville, South Carolina, but to have big city librarians doing that doesn’t say much for the ALA ideology. I often note that the public pays no attention to what the ALA says. Now, it turns out that librarians don’t either.

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Contact the AL: annoyedlibrarian@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. cantankerous librarian says:

    Hmm. I think you missed the big picture here. Did you take a look at the slide show which showed many, many complaints? Because the real story is that though there were tons of complaints, only one book was removed from the shelves.

    And, it is indeed worth noting that the book removed was a children’s book with horribly racist depictions of Africans. Did you look at the images? Really, I can’t see a good argument for why this book should be part of a current children’s collection. No one would buy it today for a kids’ collection.

    I think we should be lauding the BPL for all the good fights they’ve been fighting to keep so many other books (including children’s and YA books) on the shelves.

  2. Belgian says:

    Damnit! I bought the entire set of (wildly popular) Tintins for my children’s department and placed them on an easily accessible shelf, too. I’m going to hell for that, I guess.

    They’re not French, incidentally. The author was Belgian.

  3. Walrus Pit says:

    Yet another instance of ALA’s hypocrisy when it comes to “defending” intellectual freedom. I remember watching Tin Tin on television growing up. Hmm… Tin Tin is broadcast on TV, but locked up in the library

  4. Dances With Books says:

    Oh, so we should be lauding BPL for excluding books now? The TinTin exclusion is pretty much along the same lines of excluding Huck Finn, “ooh, it has the ‘N’ word in it; it may offend Black people.” We read works like Huck Finn today, warts and all, not only because they are good works, but because of what we can learn about the past. Yes, Tin Tin book may have images that can be offensive now, but they were not back then (probably), and we should be learning from that, not excluding. Sorry, but BPL here does not deserve any accolades, but they should be called out on their selective censorship. Then again, we should be denouncing the ALA as well, which seems pretty selective on what they denounce or not (Yale UP anyone?).

    Then again, a lot of us in the profession don’t listen to the ALA anyways.

  5. Aj says:

    The book is a reflection of the era during which it was written. The same as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which has been challenged for racism, vulgarity, etc, etc.

  6. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    I am sure most of you have noticed the trend by now. If the book is offensive to the regressive librarians then it is removed as offensive if its not it stays as defending intellectual freedom. The fact that this group is dominated by special interest groups and people just shows how narrow minded they are. This is not a question of the public good but of private agendas. This will continue as long as academics and elitist groups like the ALA is dominated by special interest thinking.

  7. More annoyed than even the AL says:

    Seems like the Tintin series might be offensive, but so are a lot of other things out there for kids that currently circulate in our library systems. For instance, the depiction of Native Americans in Disney’s animated rendition of Peter Pan or the oh-so-obviously lazy and criminal black and Hispanic hyenas in Lion King. No one ever seems to make a stink about Disney materials though.

    A lot can be learned from offensive materials, especially something that dates back many decades and shows glimpses of the history and mentality of the times, even if it was backwards and bigoted. I’d say that cartoon should be placed somewhere in the 940s, close to other Belgian historical materials.

    I don’t understand why some people are so freaking hypocritically sensitive and hysterical about certain things. Some people just need to be a little more thick-skinned.

    BPL is probably just scared of their patrons and taxpayers, as seems to be every other public library system in America these days. Or scared of inciting anger and retaliation in some disgruntled patron.

    “Patrons, we are here to please you, service you and cater to your every whim and fantasy, no matter how selfish or illogical…

    At your service,

    Your eager-to-please local public librarian”

    Does fear of the omnipotent library user not seem to be a central element of being a public librarian?

  8. Famous Freddy says:

    If you take a single book off the shelf because of complaints from the public, then you’re opening up every book for a challenge.

  9. Alex says:

    Please! They removed a black and white children’s book written in French form a public library. I’m sure that was getting a lot of use.

    As to whether or not it’s silly to take the book off the shelves, I could really go either way. Yes, the patron who asked it to be removed has a point about its racism and it certainly wouldn’t promote diversity in the library. On the other hand, it’s pretty much a historical work at this point and so would be worth keeping on the public shelves just like other, not so PC, older works.

  10. another f-ing librarian says:

    problematic, to be sure. it should be available for viewing, but i wouldn’t want my kid to absorb those depictions of people of color uncritically. european depictions remain problematic to the american eye, incidentally. a kids’ book about the ‘gummibären’ that was published in germany in the early 90′s included images of african-american soldiers that could have come right out of those scary old warner brothers cartoons. yes, the images are arresting to the american eye — in the bad way. they also factually overemphasize those figures’ non-caucasian features to the point of distortion. a treatment never given to the caucasian figures. my then-boyfriend didn’t thing A THING of it. because that image of people of color is hardwired to his psyche. yes, this is one of many reasons why i dumped him. the final stake through the heart of that friendship came when he saw an episode of ‘in the heat of the night’ on tv and said, “what? a black detective? i thought that in america the black people just do all of the [blue collar] work!” at a time when the mayor of minneapolis (my city) was african-american. anecdotal, to be sure, but here’s the thing. a storybook portraying as normal a family with ‘two daddies’ or ‘two mommies’ will not portray heterosexual couples as abnormal or inferior, or include distortion illustrations of such people. it just lets a kid know that, in real life, they might meet someone whose parents are both the same gender. if taken unreflectedly, images such as those in tintin really might ‘inspire’, “hey! this is you! [kid draws caricature of african-american kid with grossly distorted features].” even the nicest kids can be truly awful at times.

    i am committed to intellectual freedom. but *training* children from an early age that brown people are at best funny-looking and at worst ugly, is limiting to those children’s worldview, and therefore in the long run really infringing to their intellectual flexibility, if not freedom. geez. the best cardiologist in their medical group could be ‘of color’.

    but as far as the availability question. all i can say, is that i’m glad i didn’t have to make the call. it’s a very hard problem that i have to keep thinking about. locking the item away goes against my most dearly-held convictions.

  11. I Like Books says:

    So the Tin Tin book, like many pieces of popular culture, remains valuable because it offers a glimpse of the history and mentality of the times.

    But what does that have to do with the CHILDREN’S COLLECTION? Is the argument that the children need source materials for their dissertations on historical European-African relations?

    It’s value is to scholars, not to the kids. Kids don’t work at that level. To the extent that it teaches things that are outdated or just plain wrong, it probably should have been a candidate for weeding years ago. I just can’t get too heated up about it being moved to the special collections. I’m thinking it wasn’t moved for fear of offending one person, but because when it was brought to the librarians’ attention they said to themselves “Why is that still here?”

  12. cantankerous librarian says:

    This book was not removed from the library, only from the children’s section.

  13. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    Shades of “Little Black Sambo”…who happened to be Indian from India, not African from Africa!

  14. Ted says:

    >>problematic, to be sure. it should be available for viewing, but i wouldn’t want my kid to absorb those depictions of people of color uncritically.<<

    If that’s all the input the child is getting, that’s what’s going to happen. But that is hardly the case. This is really indefensible. What’s next? Jack London was a virulent racist, straight up. Let’s move all of his books because there can be nothing of value there. James Bond novels traffic in a colonialist worldview. Sequester those, too. I expected more from BPL and I expect more from the readers here.

  15. Ted says:

    @i like books:

    What about the value to kids who read the Tintin series and want to read this one, too? Or is their scholarship not worth defending?

  16. Another poor librarian says:

    The Tintin comic book was removed from public library shelves, but the public can still gain access to it. Is this really censorship? You really wouldn’t know from this blog post and tying in yet another typical rant against the ALA. But then, AL wouldn’t have anything to write about, if there was no ALA, yes?

  17. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Well I wouldn’t go as far as saying that if it wasn’t for the ALA the AL wouldn’t have anything to write about, people can make irrational hypocritical decisions without the aid of the ALA; the ALA just makes it an organized effort. This makes them an easy target. A course we still have the right to speak out against the ALA especially since we are “considered the minority.” This is still America. As far as the public having access to the book goes you see the picture of where its stored? I have heard of closed stacks before but a safe? Lord thats a barrier to consumer service if I ever saw one.

  18. Another poor librarian says:

    Yes, seeing the photo of the safe made me wonder what else is there inside it. With public libraries, I suppose a vault (or tomb?) is more practical than a safe…

  19. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    For a library its got to be a tomb of tomes. It looks like it was all children’s books. I wonder if the wicked library wizard/ witch/shaman/voodoo etc is inside it waiting for the bad kids to be sent there to read books.

  20. another f-ing librarian says:

    i just thought about this a little bit more. keeping the book in the children’s collection might be a little like keeping a book advocating the use of mercury compounds to cure syphilis, available for the general public interested in health information. keeping *that* book in special collections isn’t censorship, or intended to deny anyone their freedom to read — it’s information that is out-of-date and possibly harmful, except within a specific historical context.

  21. Ted says:

    @another f-ing librarian

    That is an incredibly lame analogy.

  22. Dan says:

    The English version of this book is so creepy and weird, I can’t believe that any of you think this is appropriate for children. There’s a funny “joke” about shooting 15 antelope type animals and the puchline is a picture of a pile of their animal corpses. Another funny joke has him shoot a monkey and crawl inside its dead body to fool another monkey. Another funny joke has a monkey shoot and kill an elephant. It is over the top racist. Those of you who want it in the children’s collection of the public library are as creepy, weird, and racist as Herge.

  23. Real_Life says:

    “…in real life, they might meet someone whose parents are both the same gender.”

    That would be a biological impossibility, and a social possibility only because of the redefinition of “parents.”

    Any book that “trains” children to believe that two parents of the same gender can be “parents” is no different than a book that teaches that the Earth is flat. Bunk, that’s all.

  24. Ted says:

    This is depressing. Don’t you all have a town hall meeting to crash somewhere?

  25. 7dd87 says:

    OMG, Ted, you’re right! I’m late for the meeting ….

  26. Riel says:

    Ted says, “This is depressing. Don’t you all have a town hall meeting to crash somewhere?”

    Been there, done that. Obamacare’s dead.

    www_dot_iamsorryivotedforobama_dot_com

  27. No. 6 says:

    I’ve never been a fan of TinTin. It just never seemed entertaining or funny. Maybe I lack the appropriate chromosomes.

    Regrading BPL, why not just shelve this in with the books for adults? Keep the modernized version in the children’s section.

  28. librarymojo says:

    There is a distinction to make between restricting books for children vs. banning books altogether.

    I’ve never seen this book, but for argument’s sake, let’s say that it’s as OTT racist as the other posters are saying. A child has nothing to learn from this.

    If you’ve ever read Blink, you’ll have heard about how most racist attitudes are primarily created from exposure to negative stereotypes, and that racist attitudes are assuaged by exposure to positive images of people of different races.

    This book should be kept and made available for historical purposes, but to say that having access to materials that contain racist stereotypes will foster ‘intellectual freedom’ is ridiculous.

  29. librarEwoman says:

    Why not just move the book from the children’s collection to the adult collection, as opposed to moving it to a locked room which patrons can only access upon request? I agree with many of the previous commenters; this book represents a part of our history. It may not be a part of which we are proud, but we nonetheless need to look back on that part of history and learn from it. I understand why parents would not want young children reading this book without the critical skills necessary to understand its historical context in relation to the present. So why not put it in an area where patrons can still find it on the shelf, but adults will be more likely to find it? Honestly, I think parents should purposely get these types of books for their kids to see when they are ready, and then get books which show the modern perceptions of Africans and their relationship to Europeans and whites. They can then compare and contrast and have a discussion with their kids about these issues. If books like Tintin are locked away in a “by appointment only” room, this is much less likey to happen.

  30. Ellen says:

    So, it was published 80 years ago. I wonder if BPL bought it when it was published? If they did, the onus falls partly on my aunt Ruth McEvoy, who was a librarian in the BPL children’s division at that time.

  31. ace says:

    In 2008, Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded the American Library Association (ALA) $489,000 to support the award, which will continue annually through 2013. The award continues in the tradition of one The New York Times presented from 2001 to 2006.

    Last year, more than 3,200 library users nationwide nominated a librarian, and 10 librarians received the award. For more information on last year’s winners, visit ilovelibraries.org/ilovemylibrarian.

    The award is administered by ALA’s Public Information Office and Campaign for America’s Libraries, ALA’s public awareness campaign that promotes the value of libraries and librarians.

    Carnegie Corp. of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” For more than 95 years, the foundation has carried out its founder’s vision of philanthropy by building on his two major concerns: international peace and advancing education and knowledge. Each year, the private grant-making foundation invests more than $100 million in nonprofit organizations to fulfill Mr. Carnegie’s mission, “to do real and permanent good in this world.

  32. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    I also read the article in The N.Y. Times on the banned book in Brooklyn Library with both interest and concern. When my novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION was published by Five Star in hardcover and Wheeler in large print, I received comments such as why would I write a book with a theme about inferno collections since banned book collections are such a thing of the past. Obviously, that is not the case. Librarians do still consider themselves “gatekeepers.” That Victorian concept has not left us. The fact is that some books are downright offensive. But should we keep them from the public?
    One way of controlling what books are available to patrons is simply through acquisitions, what librarians choose to make available. This question is at the very heart of librarianship.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star 2009
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star 2007, Wheeler large print 2008

  33. NewLibrarian says:

    I check around a little. Brooklyn Public’s holding are described above. NYPL has the book “OFFSITE – request in advance.” It’s checked out and was due back on May 18, 2009. Queens doesn’t have it at all. Nassau County doesn’t have it at all. Suffolk County only has the 1991 English translation. Westchester doesn’t have it. The nearest university library that has it, according to WorldCat, is Temple University in Phliadelphia. So, if you’re in New York and you’re a scholar doing research, or a French-speaking racist, the only place to get access to the book is in Brooklyn. Brooklyn wins.

  34. k3cs2 says:

    LibrarEwoman: I’ll put that on my list of parental things to do in my spare time.

  35. Mr. Tadakichi says:

    You know, it’s possible that they’re keeping it under lock and key because they’re afraid it’ll get stolen or destroyed. Our library has a number of books behind the reference desk for the same reason. We don’t mind people looking at them, we just want to make sure they come back.

  36. Lurker says:

    I wonder whether Herge can be dismissed as easily as some want to do here. When I studied in Germany all the children I knew liked him and/or had his books. To all appearances they are considered there what we would call here children’s classics. Even my German teacher stateside bought audio dramatizations of the stories for her daughter. And this is Germany. I am sure he is also highly regarded in the Franch speaking areas – and this in spite of the fact that he worked on some of his stories during the Nazi occupation and faced charges of collaboration after the war.
    As for whether placing a book in a safe constitutes censorhip, let them place Heather Has Two Mommies, or something similar, in there, publicize the fact, and see whether there is an outcry.

  37. West Bend Citizen Advocate says:

    Lurker:

    TOUCHE!