On Monday I must have gotten as confused as the ALA. Here I was writing about Band Books, and the whole time I should have been writing about "Banned" Books, which is what the ALA prattles on about. "Banned" Books are those books that are widely available everywhere in the country that the ALA gets so excited about. Anyway, sorry for the confusion, on both our parts.
What’s sad about the ALA "Banned" Books Week is the lengths they go to in order to make themselves more important than they actually are. It’s nice that they care about books one week a year, because it gives us a respite from hearing how gaming is going to save libraries, but it’s not like we’re in any danger of censorship in any meaningful sense. As a comparison, think about the stupid suicide book in Australia. It seems that book was actually censored, and that kind of thing just doesn’t happen in America. To defend the presence of some stupid kid’s book in a classroom against some rube in Bumflap, GA is one thing, but to claim that by doing so you’re fighting "censorship" for our freedom is just sad.
A kind reader sent on this article criticizing the "banned" books nonsense. Some of the arguments sound eerily familiar, since I’ve been making them on the blog for years. Note this criticism: "In the common-law tradition, censorship refers specifically to the government’s prior restraint on publication. None of the sponsors claim this has happened; the acts they have in mind are perpetrated by private citizens."
"Government’s prior restraint on publication": that’s pretty much what everyone except the ALA thinks censorship is. A government doesn’t allow a book on suicide to be published without revision – censorship. A mother thinks a teen novel about rape is inappropriate for her daughter’s 5th grade classroom and complains to the school – not censorship. The school principal deciding she’s right and removing the book from the curriculum – still no censorship going on. The book’s available all over the country. Hard to see even how that book has been "banned" in any sense that warrants a national organization taking any notice.
Check out the odd "terms and definitions" from the ALA’s own website. According to the ALA, censorship is, "A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives." It’s obvious that this definition is designed to support theALA’s skewed meaning of terms. This definition doesn’t even account for the definition of censorship as "government’s prior restraint on publication," which is a basic meaning of censorship that everyone but the ALA understands. "Change in the access status of material," in addition to sounding like it was written by a tone deaf committee, does not cover cases of the government refusing to allow a book’s publication. In other words, it doesn’t cover cases of actual censorship. A state censoring a book doesn’t "change its access status." It keeps the "access status" exactly as it had always been.
It’s only saving grace as a definition of censorship is that it does acknowledge that the agent of censorship must be "a governing authority or its representatives." But this is undercut as the absurd definition continues, "Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes." Grade level changes? Oh, goodness, apparently "governing authority" doesn’t mean what most people would assume it means, i.e., the government. You know, those people who govern and who have authority. A school principal, for example, is only a "governing authority" in the most limited sense. A public library isn’t a "governing authority" or its representative at all in any sense you could give to it. Yet if a book in a public library were challenged as inappropriate for the children’s section and it was reclassified into the adult section, the ALA would have to say the book had been "censored."
Of course they have to alter and restrict the definition of censorship deliberately to exclude cases of the government restraining a book’s publication. That’s because if they go by this common definition of censorship, they have absolutely no cases to discuss. Since there is no actual book censorship in the United States, there’s not much need for a group crying out against it.
We have stepped through the Looking Glass. "’When I use a word,’ the ALA said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said AL, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’" The ALA’s definition of censorship has no relationship whatsoever to what everyone else in the entire world understands by the word. It’s incoherent and self-serving. That hasn’t stopped plenty of librarians for going along for the ride. It’s a little dispiriting, because there’s no point in having intellectual freedom if there is no intellectual capacity.