Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Libraries Banning Books

A Kind Reader sent in this article about widespread censorship among public libraries in the US. Not only are the librarians not apologetic for this widespread censorship, according to the article they’re “enraged” that anyone would expect them not to be evil censors. The nerve of some librarians.

Okay, that’s not quite the gist of the article, which is about how a new book by J.J. Abrams “enrages librarians” so much they’re either not buying it or returning it after they do buy it.

There aren’t any examples of librarians actually being enraged, but when a headline in a hard news source like the Hollywood Reporter says something, it’s probably true.

The problem seems to be that the book, such as it is, contains a lot of inserts and loose material, apparently on just about every page.

According to the article, the “Hollywood-style marketing campaign…left [the librarians] clueless about the contents of the relatively pricey book.”

That’s kind of a strange claim, since according to Amazon the list price of the book is only $35, and it’s available more cheaply than that for consumers and most likely for libraries as well. That’s not out of line for a new hardback.

There’s even a Kindle version, although how that would deal with all the inserts isn’t clear.

The librarians cancelling it seem to think that all the inserts will likely get lost. They’re probably right.

However, is that any excuse for such blatant censorship? Why isn’t the ALA coming out with a public statement about all the book challenges librarians are presenting against this book?

And with all this censorship, how in the world are people going to be able to read this instant classic if they can’t get it at the library? I ask you that!

Shameful, just shameful.

And now for some “censorship” that really matters, and that puts all of our book challenges into some perspective.

If you like to protest book bans, and what librarian doesn’t, check this one out: “An organization representing 40,000 private schools in Pakistan says it has decided to ban I Am Malala, a memoir written by Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting the education of girls.”

She’s supposedly a “tool for the West,” or something like that. I guess at least in the West the Taliban is less likely to shoot her in the face for trying to get an education. A Kind Reader sent in that article, but in another one I read the Taliban wants to shoot her again. Those guys are persistent, you have to give them that.

And there were some more sad excuses, like she didn’t put PUH in front of Muhammad’s name and “spoke favorably” of Salman Rushdie. We can’t have that!

Because of all these terrible problems with the book, it might leave students “in a confused state of mind.” That does tend to happen when people encounter viewpoints different than their own, and we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen in school. At least not in Pakistan, I guess. In America we usually wait until adulthood to completely wall ourselves off from other points of view.

The ALA OIF goes apoplectic if some tiny school in the middle of nowhere bans a book, which goes to show that we don’t have a lot to worry about. When 40,000 schools ban a book, we can talk.

Although I’m still waiting for the ALA to make a comment about how all these libraries are banning J.J. Abrams’ book. I really wanted to read that thing, and if libraries censor it I’ll never be able to.

A strongly worded press release from the ALA that everyone ignores as usual should do the trick.



  1. If that counts as censorship then someone needs to do something about the vast and secret children’s librarian conspiracy to censor popup books and “lift-the-flap” toddler books. At my old job we had an unofficial policy of not ordering the things and we weren’t the only library to do so, though a few always slipped through since B&T is delightfully opaque in their physical descriptions.

    Why didn’t we order them? Because they are (relatively) expensive and they’re ripped and broken with missing pieces after 1-5 checkouts. It was wasting public money trying to keep the things in stock.

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      Psst… this article is being sarcastic, making fun of the broad definition of censorship that many librarians use.

      My best example of stupid attitudes towards censorship, I complained to the director of the library about a guest speaker she invited telling people they shouldn’t get a mammogram because it causes cancer to spread. She responded, “We can’t prevent people from talking just because it’s wrong.” (Really, the problem here isn’t that it’s wrong. It’s that it’s wrong AND dangerous.)

      I told her that I was glad that I decided not to join a profession that has so little regard to the truth and the safety of its profession.

    • I know it’s sarcasm. I figured my reference to the “vast and secret children’s librarian conspiracy” would be a tip-off. ;)

      On a more serious note, I had a couple of go-rounds while I was still in the profession over removing books that provided demonstrably outdated, incorrect, and dangerous medical books. Another librarian told me with a straight face that we couldn’t remove them because the collection had to “represent all points of view.”

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      Yes, the “representing all points of view” argument was the one the director used when I made the complaint. If you ask me, that’s the argument of someone who can’t wait to be replaced by the Internet. I can find all the crackpot medical opinions I want on Google. I can’t find a source of definitive scientific knowledge to help me know what’s been tested and what’s hokum (well, I can but I have medical knowledge).

      The teach the controversy nature of many libraries is going to hold them back.

    • That “representing all points of view” argument is valid but often bastardized. It’s important to have books on all religions for example, but having dangerously outdated medical books is another story entirely.

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      The representing all points of view argument is valid when all points of view are valid. In the case of religion and politics and philosophy all sides of the argument (some more solidly based in reality which has a well-known liberal bias) are valid. Jenny McCarthy’s book on autism is not really valid but in my opinion mostly harmless to individuals. Some other quackery is actively harmful.

      Until people (in general) step and reject the notion that they idea of a crackpot isn’t as valid as the idea of the expert, there will be very little progress will be made in society. And if anyone should be able to do that, it’s the center of knowledge in society. But let’s face it, most public libraries are centers of shallow trivia.

  2. medlibrarian says:

    I only worked in public libraries for a short while and never had any book ordering responsibilities, I am curious do publishers ever offer a “library version” of books that come with a lot of inserts so that maybe there is just a print of the insert on a page or something? Would they even consider doing this?

    • I never saw anything like this. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist, just that it’s not very widespread. Most publishing houses are ambivalent at best about libraries so I doubt making books more convenient for them is high on the priority list.

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      They do! Or at least they do for other hard-to-shelve items. For example, some of the LEGO books that come with minifigures have special library editions that don’t. We try to get those whenever we can, since the regular editions tend to have fragile, hollow covers that take up a quarter of the book’s volume to make room for the little display case.

      Although if people buy Abrams’ book and libraries don’t, it might turn out badly for us. Based on their approach to ebooks, some of the major publishers seem like they wouldn’t sell books to libraries at all if they could get away with it. I could just imagine HarperCollins or a pre-merger Penguin loading down a prospective bestseller with looseleaf extras just to discourage libraries from lending them out.

    • Yes, but if you order the LEGO books without the minifigures, what will the library staff fight over?! (I definitely did not throw an elbow to get an exclusive Han Solo figure. Nope, certainly not…)

  3. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    I’m imagining an angry hoard of librarians (all with hair buns, cardigan sweaters, sensible shoes, eyeglasses on chains, and a few tattoos thrown in for good measure) storming the J J Abrams compound with torches, pitchforks, and date stampers demanding a special library edition be published without all the loose ephemera.

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      Is this happening in real life or in the sideway universe? Is there any chance of the librarians being attacked by Smoke Monsters?

  4. My library bought S. (and I am the first person to check out my copy, so it’ll circ at least ONCE without losing anything), and the cataloger meticulously documented each and every insert in both the circulation software and on our library’s website. Which won’t help stuff to not get lost, but at least we can tell when it does, if we have a mind to go compare.

    I seem to remember that once upon a time, Books on Tape would replace individual tapes or CDs, so that if the fourth tape in an eleven-tape book got messed up, the library could just buy the individual tape, rather than replace the whole set. It seems like something like that could happen here (“Hey, we lost the letter that Jen wrote to Eric that’s supposed to be between pages 100-101, could you send us a replacement?” “Sure!”), though I don’t know who would do it (the publisher? JJ Abram’s intern? Purchasing department?)

  5. Belinda Collins says:

    Speaking of banning books—a local school district just recently tried to ban Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. Two weeks ago, the board met on the issue, and they invited teachers, students and parents to attend the meeting. There were students who spoke against the use of the book in the classroom, mainly citing its sex and rape scenes as reasons they don’t feel comfortable reading it. However, there were also students who spoke in favor of the book, saying that reading the text only prepares them for reading on a college level. I think that school boards should trust the teachers and their decisions to share such material with their students. If the powers that be have issues with the selections, they should ask for lesson rationales.

  6. Librarian in Texas says:

    Back when I was in library school we learned it is important to weed outdated material. I also learned that ALA offers malpractice insurance to librarians. Why? Well if your library checked out an outdated medical book and the patron followed the outdated treatment, etc. & died then you the librarian can get sued. Weeding should be a part of everyday business in a library just like censorship is….no public library has room to keep everything nor enough money to buy everything.

  7. The *students* ( some of them anyway) said the sex and rape scenes made them uncomfortable?! Somehow I doubt that the kids came up with that themselves,for one , and, gee- reading about a Rape scene usually makes we adults all warm and comfy? That, in my opinion is exactly why young people should be reading books like The Color Purple! To read in a fictionalized way, about racism, inequality as regards economic differences, and yes, about rape.

  8. Haven’t we been through this with…Grifiin and Sabine? Remember that. from 1991? It’s a cute little book with envelopes, then you can look through the love letters and everything.

    • I know the book you’re referring to,
      but I have to admit I’m not sure what you mean exactly. :-)

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