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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Greeley predicts a wave of book burnings

Andrew Greeley goes off the deep end, imagining that the election of Sarah Palin will usher in Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's science fiction novel about rampant book burning. What set him off, we must assume, is the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for vice president. Greeley's dark vision of what is to become of America appears to be based on the report that Palin, as mayor of a small Alaskan town, once asked the librarian what she would do if someone asked her to remove a book from the library.

I suppose the request can be interpreted in different ways: Was Palin fishing around to have a book removed? Or was she asking for the library's policy, much as she might ask the town's police chief what his policy was on residents giving gifts to police officers. Or the public works director if he thinks the town's water rates should be raised.

I don't know. But I do know that the Chicago-based American Library Association (the librarian whom Palin approached was head of the state's branch of the ALA) gets hyper every time anyone questions the wisdom of a particular book being available to impressionable, young minds. For years, the ALA counted each instance as an example of a "banned book," until it was pointed out that an inquiry is not a request which is not an actual banned book. Only afterwards did the ALA change the name of "Banned Book Week," to "Challenged Book Week."

Such inquiries are not unreasonable when you consider that the ALA's official policy holds that children should have access to anything they want or need. That continues to be the official policy, although it is not stated so directly after I wrote about the policy's absurdity years ago.

My own local library used to have on its shelf a children's sex education book called "Show Me." Indeed it did. The book was page after page of naked, curious children, a pedophile's delight. It eventually was taken off the public shelves and went into a collection that a patron could access only upon request. Now it's no longer in the card catalog. Was its removal censorship, or simply a display of good judgment by the librarian?

Librarians constantly are making judgments about what books to include in a libary's collection. Some of those decisions are based on "guidelines" or recommendations some made by the ALA. I suppose you can call those judgments objective, but some obviously are as subjective as what a reporter decides to include or exclude from a news story. You cannot properly label such decisions "censorship." It is merely the exercise of wisdom.

Greeley had an opportunity to bring some cool-headed reason to this discussion, but he demurred. Too bad.

2 comments:

lake county democrat said...

To me the problem isn't that librarians are pretty liberal about what to allow kids to read (my suggestion: have children's library cards default to open access, tell this to parents at the time they get a card, and then let them opt-out if they don't want their kids to read the rated-r stuff). It's when they won't put stuff like "Left Behind For Kids" and the like on the shelves.

The ALA, though, are no friends of free speech and have many liberal librarians angry it at for that reason. http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6301300.html

lake county democrat said...

PS That said Dennis, the fact that Palin repeatedly broached this subject gives me a shudder, regardless of how irresponsibly the incident(s) were initially reported.