Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Closer to Real Censorship

Certain folks within the ALA like to talk about censorship as if that’s really a thing that goes on in America. That’s because “censorship” sounds much more ominous than “somebody complained about a library book.”

Nevertheless, the ALA has never documented a case in decades where a book challenged or removed from a public library isn’t widely available for sale or even for borrowing from just about every other library in the country.

While definitely not censorship, some rube in Missouri challenging a book in the Smallsville Public Library because he hates gays would at least be a significant act if that led to the book being removed from every public library in the country. Unless that can happen, the complaint, or even the removal, is just an insignificant blip on the national library radar screen.

Just to show the contrast between the lack of censorship and the widespread availability of “banned books” in American libraries, let’s take a look at someplace where a single gay-hating rube can have a broad effect.

For example, Singapore, where the National Library Board decided to remove the gay penguin book and others from libraries, and which has now decided to pulp those books.

As far as I can tell, the NLB controls all the public libraries in Singapore, so what they say affects the entire country.

The books were removed after local Singaporean rube Teo Kai Loon complained to the NLB. I’m assuming Loon doesn’t have the same connotations in Singapore as it does here.

Thus, one local rube complaining is responsible for getting copies of three books removed from every public library in Singapore and having them pulped. They certainly know how to give their fanatics power in Singapore!

The NLB claims to promote “reading, learning and information literacy [for heterosexuals] by providing a trusted, accessible and globally-connected library and information service through the National Library and a comprehensive network of Public Libraries.”

But they also claim to be family-friendly, which means they don’t want books about gay penguins in their library, although they do probably distribute crayons with their menus, which is about the only definition of family-friendly in the U.S. I’ve been able to make any sense of.

Even though it’s the central government directing the removal and pulping of the books, I still don’t think it can be called censorship. If nothing else, Amazon USA ships to Singapore, and even has something called AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping to make it cheaper. And Kindles are available there as well.

And according to Google Maps, not only are there bookstores in Singapore, but there are a LOT of bookstores in Singapore, just like in places where one rube can’t get all the books he doesn’t like removed from every public library in the country. So the banned books are definitely available elsewhere.

However, it does provide a striking contrast with the U.S., and one that leaves the hollow “censorship” rhetoric from the ALA shriveled as well. Not only is censorship of books nonexistent, but even the worst challenges are nationally insignificant.

If nothing else, I’m unaware of any books actually being “banned” from public libraries in large metropolitan areas, where most Americans actually live. Sure, the 2500 residents of Tinyville, Kentucky might have to fork over $11 to read And Tango Makes Three, but the overwhelming majority of people can still get their book for free and save that $11 for a light breakfast or something.

On the other hand, it’s possible nobody really believes all the censorship guff and they just use it to get publicity. Nothing like an imagined crisis to draw attention to yourself.



  1. Mmmmmmmaty says:

    I’m not sure censorship is qualified only by scale.

    • farmertom2 says:

      Singapore is a cesspit. I avoid the place as much as possible. Not always possible though. It’s what one friend called Disneyland With A Death Penalty. It’s a totalitarian septic tank, that exists to enrich the nation’s First Family, if you can call a little dot of real estate on the equator a nation.

  2. Whtrabbit says:

    The problem with your contention is that there are a whole lot of “rubes” out there, and they all are offended by something. It would be a poor library that had to capitulate to the whims of everyone that wished to remove material. How long to you think Mark Twain, Salinger, the Bible, or the Koran, etc would survive on our shelves if we just allowed material to be removed because you can order it from Amazon? As Mmmmmmmmaty says, I don’t think you can judge censorship by scale. At what point, if we quit defending removal requests, would it be censorship for you? Also-you do know that it’s offensive to small town people to paint them as ignorant, right? Just an FYI.

  3. You do understand that Singapore is a city-state, right? That your big example is not only not a larger scale than a county’s libraries banning a book, but in fact that Singapore is actually smaller than most counties in the United States?

    There’s also the greater issue of why someone who claims to be a librarian’s response to a book being banned from a library is, “That’s all right, you can just buy a copy instead” but that’s a whole separate response, other than to say that I’m mortified that we claim the same profession.

  4. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    I’ve always believed that the inevitable outcry about “censorship” in Tinyville serves an important purpose in dis-empowering all of the rubes in Bigville that would try the same thing if they didn’t know they’d immediately be ridiculed and vilified on a national level. I also don’t think it wise, in general, to disregard book burners based merely on the size of the fire.

  5. Bobbi Perryman says:

    I work in a town with a high poverty rate. Many of my patrons don’t have $11 to fork over to Amazon for a book. For them, removing the book from my shelf might as well be removing it entirely. (Yes, I can get things through ILL, but there are plenty of browsers who don’t know what they want until they see it).

  6. Claire Sewell says:

    This is probably one of the most privileged perspectives I have ever read on the Library Journal website. Way to miss the point by only stating your opinion of censorship and not citing any real data. Not to mention insulting those who live in small towns and rural areas and, of course, those who can’t afford $11 for a book. I guess since everything is accessible to you where you live that it’s not a problem for anyone else.

  7. Old Librarian says:

    It’s a slippery slope you’re sliding down. Buying books is not an option for the multitude of folks who have neither the money nor the access to bookstores, actual or online. Once ONE book gets banned it opens the floodgates for more naysayers to start tromping on the rights of others to read. Arguing that it’s just one title in one library is insane…it just fortifies the resolve of the censors to keep on trying ’til they wear us down. The current Supreme Court doesn’t seem to interested in preserving the protections of the 1st Amendment — that kind of leaves it up to us librarian-types to make sure that censorship doesn’t gain any type in toe in our doors.

  8. Brian L. Baker says:

    What a priviledged perspective this is – there is no book banning if the book can be purchased.

    How can any legitimate librarian believe this way? How can any respected publication for libraries, libraiand, and librarianship, consider this posting worthy of “publication.”

    If one person is denied access to a book because of the protests of another, there is censorship. As pointed out above, censorship is not based on the size of the book burning, but that the burning happens.

    This article is a disgrace.

  9. sciencereader says:

    It’s kind of ironic about Singapore, given that they hosted the annual IFLA conference last year.

  10. Jenny R says:

    A blip on the national scene? Sure. Like Rhode Island. Statistically it’s a blip, so we shouldn’t bother ourselves with it. People don’t live on the “national scene,” they live in local communities. If you’re a teen who’s not sure if your family will support your reading in these areas, ILL or Amazon might as well be on the moon.

  11. I share the same concerns as many other commenters.

    In particular, though, I am taken aback by your pejorative choice to attribute materials’ challenges to ‘rubes.’ Although you were not specifically addressing the issue of adults wanting to safeguard children’s minds from particular ideas and materials, you may want to reflect on this following observation from Dorothy Broderick’s 1977 book “Library Work with Children.” She writes:

    “In fact, most adults in our society do not want children exposed to a wide range of ideas and attitudes. They prefer that all materials children encounter reflect their own value system. On this score, the only difference between liberal and conservative parents is in the content of the material they want their children to receive.”

    The desire to impose our attitudes and beliefs is not restricted to people living in a certain region, possessing a particular socioeconomic status, or the like. We all have tendencies to preference particular values.

    What librarians must do, though, is strive to rise above our ever-so-human tendencies to prohibit and control. We must be information gatekeepers, not to be exclusionary, but rather to ensure that everyone has wide, equitable access to the world of ideas and information.

    Library Journal, I am disappointed – angry even – that you continue to provide a platform to someone who does little to enrich our profession. It IS possible to be thoughtful and provocative without acting like an asshat.

  12. just sayin says:

    Yes, LJ!!!!! Censor AL. I don’t like what s(he)’s saying. Fire this person immediately. We don’t need anyone who believes differently than us, writing for our national professional rag.

  13. sat·ire
    noun: satire

    the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

    • Spencer says:

      Don’t bother- those who know, know. those who don’t owe it to willful ignorance and cannot be helped.

    • Brian L. Baker says:

      If this piece were actually satire, it is one of the poorest examples of satire that I have ever read.

    • Satire seems to be the fall-back for every opinion stated and not well-received these days. “Oh, I didn’t mean it seriously, it was satire. *You’re* the one that doesn’t get it, not me.”

  14. I’m confused as to how something being widely available for purchase makes it less important that it be included in a library collection. The internet is widely available for access if you have money, but we still provide that. And the bible is free in most hotels, but we still provide that. How about a clean, quiet space to read? Surely most people could find that elsewhere as well, but it’s still a big part of what we do.

    This is a dangerous argument and I think it invalidates the very foundation of what public libraries are intended to provide. Small towns and rural areas are the very places where kids NEED access to books like And Tango Makes Three because they aren’t exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles.

  15. Another home run from the Annoyed Librarian at the Library Journal.

    Not only are the ALA’s claims about censorship “hollow rhetoric,” but also ALA fakes the numbers to puff up “nationally insignificant” numbers, and, along the way, harms communities like the LGBT one. By faking instances of hate against LGBT people, ALA increased incidents of gay hate and even suicide.

    In 2010, ALA said the #1 listed book And Tango Makes Three was challenged or banned “dozens” of times. Then I called ALA OIF to find out the exact number because ALA never reveals that, not even to authors, one told me. Bryan Campbell took my call and told me he put together the list and ATMT was challenged only four times all year. Talk about nationally insignificant! Four was inflated to dozens. That was the 1st book on the list.

    And the 9th book on the list was also supposedly banned for “homosexual” content, but I recorded the author of that book admitting ALA told her it faked the list because even though others were challenged more than hers, the book involved homosexuality and was actually removed from one school. One. That’s “nationally insignificant.” Those two books were the only ones on the list listed as dealing with homosexuality, and ALA faked the list in both cases. The LGBT community was harmed as a direct result, though quantifying that harm will likely be impossible.

    ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is a fraud. I have not published this yet but I am working on proving ALA OIF is now advising librarians NOT to record incidents of crime in libraries precisely so the public will never find out. I’m just working on explaining exactly how it’s doing it because I’m going to need to spell this out perfectly for people to believe what I am reporting ALA OIF is doing. It’s jaw dropping shocking. And the more anonymous leakers the merrier, so keep ’em coming.

    And speaking of LGBT hate, that training given by OIF on not reporting crimes? Well, I’m still writing this up, but it included gay bashing, and OIF is inviting that speaker back again for more trainings! Yay! More gay bashing! You see, one of the child porn whistleblowers is gay, so gay rights gets tossed aside when OIF needs to push its own worldview on others, as illustrated at least with its “hollow rhetoric” and the trainers it chooses to teach librarians how to block child porn whistleblowers.

    So I stand up and cheer Annoyed Librarian’s home run. Brava!

    • Mmmmmmmaty says:

      Charging the ALA and their policies with increased incidences of gay hate and suicide is insidious.

  16. Dan, does anything anyone ever says not relate somehow to your porn eradicating mission? Seems like every library blog I read has a post by you relating it back to porn in libraries. It’s ridiculous and gets old fast.

    • the real me says:

      Dan has an unhealthy porn obsession. He also has an obsession with posting comments that are largely unrelated to the original blog post.

      He’s like those blog spammers that post one relevant intro sentence and then talk about how they are making $6,000 a month from home using Google. Except he talks about porn and the ALA instead.

  17. AL, generally I think you are spot on, but as many others have stated, I think you are off the mark. A lot of kids have no power over what they are given access too, and the library is one of the only places they may be exposed to new ideas. Taking a book off the shelf, or even moving it to a different section can make it inaccessible to that child. As librarians, we should be trying to expose children to different view points, and materials that challenge the way they think.

    • just sayin says:

      When did it become our responsibility to challenge children to grow. If they want to challenge themselves or if their parents want to challenge them to grow, fine. When we say we don’t act in loco parentis, that has to fly both ways. We neither encourage or discourage. Parents are the ones who should be allowing and encouraging their children to expand not us. All we should be doing is providing opportunities for growth NOT guiding growth.

    • the real me says:

      Not removing a book from the shelf is a rather passive way of encouraging growth. Even if you were to be more active in the process it wouldn’t be the same thing as In loco parentis which is having some of the legal responsibilities for a child. Not quite the same thing.

  18. Steve Benson says:

    The context of this article is that AL has for years mocked and tried to diminish OIF censorship efforts, in particular Banned Books Week. It isn’t satire but a crusade of his/hers. That said, it is always worthwhile to gather and express thoughts about this. I agree with those who proclaim that a single library banning a book from its collection isn’t censorship – technically. It is an attempt at censorship though. There was a thread of expression counter to AL’s comments here that was particularly on point and I hope it gets repeated and carried to other library censorship discussions.

    • Spencer says:

      As always, well stated Steve. I think AL uses certain terms sarcastically or with the intention of satire or simply to stir the nest. I think, on a literal basis, AL is pointing out that something not being carried in a library does not equate to censorship. (And I’ve always stated that all libraries censor through the selection process.) However, every challenge to a book being in a collection cannot be decried as censorship or else we’ll all be associated with crying wolf soon.

      What AL, seems, to have done is have reactionary standpoint on this subject. When one hears the cries of censorship everywhere, one can easily lash out against new cries of censorship as being worthless given their history. AL has a point at some level, but overreaches to battle against all shepherds- even when there’s evidence that a wolf has actually been present. (What’s the proverb about having a hammer and everything looking like nails?)

  19. noutopian librarian says:

    One can’t expect AL to shed her elitist posture anymore than it is to expect Dan “porn ate my library” K. to stop imagining that intellectual freedom will subvert his children (I personally hope it does and they have a healthier open attitude about sexuality and choices made by others than he does). After all, a $11 light breakfast *and* a shiny new copy of “Tango Makes Three” would be nada to the likes of Audrey Hepburn (which is how I imagine AL).

    However, her misguided attitude about how removing books from libraries does not (in her mind) constitute censorship has been well called out in this thread and I applaud this. Give it some thought over your evening cocktail or glass of wine, AL. Whether such removals, or attempts at removals, fit your semantic definition of censorship or not, they *are* attempts at imposing a worldview on everyone else through inhibiting access via a community resource that all, regardless of wealth or ideology, share access to. All too often, the worldview being imposed is based on religious mythologies.

    Librarians have a responsibility to make all viewpoints available and to resist attempts to stifle this, theocratic, ideological, philosophical or otherwise. If parents object – it’s their responsibility to limit their children’s exposure to ideas and information different than their own perspectives (fat chance of this unless they and everyone else they know lives off the grid!). To me, this is what OIF stands for, and regardless of slander and misunderstanding, librarians in Vinita, Oklahoma can count on their support as much as those in Westchester County, NY.

    • ” All too often, the worldview being imposed is based on religious mythologies.
      There is a fairly large group of people/librarians who use a statement such as this as if it were proof that they are right and others are wrong. I truly don’t understand the apparent belief that censorship or discrimination based on a religious belief is somehow worse than censorship or discrimination based in some other sincerely held belief or value system.

    • While removing books from libraries is censorship, as most of us understand the word, librarians do not have a responsibility of making all viewpoints available or to resist all censorship. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union exist to protect and expand civil liberties such as free speech. And good for them. I’m glad that the ACLU exists. Librarians have interests that rival, conflict, and sometimes supersede free speech. Libraries and librarians exist to facilitate learning and literacy, not to provide a public forum for free speech. For example, we have no responsibility to resist the suppression of child pornography. Or plenty of other viewpoints.

      We don’t serve ourselves or our public well by interpreting the First Amendment literally. When we do, we’d have to acknowledge that it only limits the ability of Congress to abridge speech, not the executive or judicial branches of government or state and local government, but certainly not libraries, with the exception perhaps of the Library of Congress. A more fruitful but more difficult conversation would be one about what speech librarians should censor and what speech should be protected.

  20. noutopian librarian says:

    @PW. It’s not necessarily any “worse.” It bears calling out, at least from my perspective, because of it’s currency. If a Dogme 95 aficionados begin to seek removal of all films utilizing CGI so much so that it was commonplace for them to be seeking to impose their beliefs about filmmaking on the rest of us, I’d call that out. At present, it seems that those seeking to inhibit access based on their faith in common religious mythologies is a common theme in these situations, so I identify it as such. Librarians should support freedom of belief, whether in Yehovah or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, just not the “freedom” to impose those beliefs on others in access and use of libraries. That’s what these “censorship” cases amount to, whether in Singapore or Salem, Missouri.

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