Now that it’s National Library Week we get to find out what are the most challenged books of the past year. Surprisingly, perhaps, they’re not books that are filled with sex and profanity, the usual things that offend the easily offended American public.
No, this year it’s children’s books by Bill Cosby, once upon a time everyone’s favorite sitcom dad, now everyone’s least favorite angel fallen from grace.
It’s not like this was particularly widespread. It never is. The ALA recorded only 323 challenges in 2016. The head of the OIF claims this is because people are self-censoring, and perhaps so. Or maybe people were just too busy in 2016 to worry about something as useless as a book challenge.
And that number was a 17% increase from the previous year. It sounds a lot more impressive if you put it in percentages.
Regardless, with over 300,000,000 Americans and 16,000 public library branches, it’s not like this book challenge thing is a big deal.
The relative handful of Cosby books challenged were for “criminal sexual allegations against the author.” Which is a little strange when you stop to think about it, or at least when I stop to think about it.
It’s not like the little kids reading the books know anything about Cosby, unless their parents tell them, and what are the chances of that.
“You see this book we’re reading, little Billy? Well, the author has been accused by multiple women of drugging them and sexually assaulting them.”
Is that the kind of conversation people have with their children these days? I hope not.
Otherwise, the challenges are moving onto shaky ground, and hopefully most of them were ignored. Once you get away from the books to the life of the author, there could be almost limitless grounds for protest.
Why not challenge books because they’re by white women or Asian men? The obvious answer is that those categories of people aren’t criminal, but try telling that to the myriad sexists and racists roaming the countryside.
All it takes is some gamergate idiots to start challenging the role of women in the production of children’s books and we’re on our way.
That’s an easy one, I admit, but what about more political or religious issues? It’s well known that the author of Goodnight Moon was a radical communist who thought we should say goodnight to everything because it all belongs to us, including the moon. We see the same sentiment in Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”
The Berenstain Bears might themselves be innocuous, but what if the Berenstains themselves regularly presided over occult orgies at their cabin in the deep woods? Could you prove they didn’t if someone challenged a book?
This is a case where the librarians might feel a twinge of regret fighting the challenge. Few librarians are going to be much concerned with a swear word or a character’s budding sexuality, and those are actually in the books.
But Cosby has fallen so far and so fast it’s hard not to get a bad taste in one’s mouth thinking about his crimes.
Still, that’s not in the books, at least not until his new children’s series on the joys of Rohypnol, so hopefully the librarians involved can separate that from a good story, if his books have good stories. Otherwise, as with all other challenges, if libraries get rid of books that offend someone, even the librarians, there wouldn’t be many books left.