Thursday, January 2, 2014

Racism vs Censorship

Jones Library on a snowy day

The Jones Library is now in that unenviable position of dealing with a handful of parents concerned about reading material available in the Children's Room.  The formal name of the room kind of gives you an idea of the room's demographic. 

The problem is an ancient comics series "Tintin" that has some, err, dated ideas about race relations which could pollute the minds of young children.  Their solution, fortunately, is not outright censorship, aka the 1999 'West Side Story' "racism" debacle at Amherst Regional High School.



They simply want the book series moved to the Young Adult section.

Although that would probably be like moving 'Cat In The Hat' from the Children's Section to Young Adult where the clientele would be a tad too mature to wish to read it.
Dr Seuss war effort

Of course the argument could be made that Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, penned some let us say less than flattering portrayals of Emperor Hirohito and should also be moved.  That too was a "different time," and that particular cartoon appeared in print less than three months after the Japanese perpetrated their infamous Ninja raid on Pearl Harbor.

This morning Jones Library Trustees took up discussion of the potentially volatile issue after the Library Director Sharon Sharry refused to take the parents suggestion.  The Trustees took the safe way out by not taking a formal position because no one made a motion one way or the other.

But the board did send three suggestions to the Library Director:   Let patrons know the Jones Library does not vet material for content (even children's books); perhaps move the items within the Children's Room to a less visible location; and work with the concerned parents to come up with an educational program on racism in children's books.

Or, individual parents could just prevent their kids from picking up the 'Tintin' series.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.


53 comments:

Nicole said...

Larry, you may be interested in the ALA's Free Access to Libraries for Minors, which is an interpretation of their Library Bill of Rights:

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/freeaccesslibraries

You may also want to let their Office of Intellectual Freedom know about this (or any) challenge to materials:
http://www.ala.org/bbooks/challengedmaterials/reporting

Walter Graff said...

Good for her. How about using the books to teach your children about how things where and why they are different today instead of sweeping it under the rug and ignoring reality.
Only in Amherst is tolerance taught by banning history. No wonder why kids from this town end up so screwed up.

Anonymous said...

My son borrowed these when he was young - Look forward to letting him know Amherst's latest!

We probably borrowed them from N Amherst- where their archaic sign out cards displayed our name!

Those cards were great for getting the neighborhood gossip (who was borrowing the self help books :)

Anonymous said...

Gazette has a story up now on this discussion.... it was after yours of course. I think it's a good idea to talk about issues of racism in books and in our schools. I hope the School Committee and school administration will do more on this front soon.

Kurt Geryk said...

I don't have a position on the parents' requests, however...

I've just read the American Library Associations "Bill Of Rights". It doesn't seem to me like the requests of the parents to move the book's location would limit anyone's access to the book. No one is suggesting banning the book, no one is challenging the book (ALA website clearly states "Challenges...are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.") Anyone would still be free to access, read, and check out the book in question, even a 3 year old. In fact it will probably become a hot item now. Nor did the parents say they wouldn't use the book in question to teach their kids about racism. Honestly, it seems like Nicole and Walter didn't read what the parents' requested or the website materials they cite.

People can be so reactionary about stuff like this: again, no one requested banning the book, no one "challenged" the material, no one suggested limiting anyone's access to the material...certainly no one is suggesting "banning history" or is "sweeping it under the rug and ignoring reality"!

Kurt Geryk

Kurt Geryk said...

Anyway, apparently the library decided to keep the book in the children's room. If nothing else we had an opportunity to consider how we feel about the parents' concerns, which are/were important and legitimate ones.

Larry Kelley said...

Oh, I have a feeling we will get further opportunity to consider the parents' concerns.

Anonymous said...

Larry, these are the same parents who single-handedly got the schools to "ban" nuts.

Anonymous said...

A propos T. S. Geisel's WW2 propaganda cartoons, check out historian R. H. Minear's "Dr. Seuss Goes to War" for an outstanding treatment of this sort of issue.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes Mr. Minear (former Select Board Chair) and I go w-a-y back.

Walter Graff said...

Kurt, it would be the equivalent of your wife saying that all books about how to properly run a school system aren't going to be banned, rather they are going to be moved from the library shelf to a shelf behind the librarians desk. They wouldn't be banned per se, but those that might be interested in researching wouldn't see them where they might expect to see them.

Tin-tin is a book designed for kids and is a series that inspires and delights readers all over the world (even to this day). Moving them wouldn't be banning them, but it might mean availability to a classic story wouldn't be found by a child interested in it where one would expect to find it.

You might believe no one is "challenging" the material and that no one is suggesting limiting anyone's access to the material, but if that wasn't an issue, no one would have asked for the books to be moved and the libraries head wouldn't have to say no.

No, the books would be as available to any child looking for them where they are perfectly fine now, a place the library feels is appropriate for them. Parents wouldn't need to ask for them to be moved where younger children might not readily see them if that was the case.

Nicole said...

Kurt, I think I did understand what the parents requested. They wanted materials that are clearly written for the under-12 set to be moved out of the childrens' section. Why not move Babar, Little House in the Big Woods, the Goosebumps series, and anything else that might cause offense, for whatever reason, to the adult section as well?

It's not the job of the public library to filter materials that might be offensive. If that were the case, no public library would have internet access, copies of the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, or books by Glenn Beck.

There are plenty of cases of libraries that have had "offensive" books like "And Tango Makes Three" challenged. And, yes, asking that a material be moved to a different shelf or section IS a challenge. When you are asking the library to categorize a book in a way it otherwise would not be categorized, you're challenging that book.

The only answer to offensive speech is more, not less, speech.

Anonymous said...

These parents were far more reasonable and measured in their request and in their approach than the students, and their parents, of yesteryear who put a stop to West Side Story. That unfortunate incident still stands alone in the town's history in being just plain dumb.

Just to talk back to the verbal overkill in the comments here, nothing that happened today on this issue is any indication of some failure in how we educate and nurture children in this community, Walter. Not every debate or disagreement in town has the future of the community or its children riding on it. Calm down.

If you take a good look at Amherst's children, and what kind of adults they grow into, it's a fairly distinguished bunch. That is, if you really take a good look, i.e. tear yourself away from the computer screen and live a little.

Anonymous said...

I think it would make sense for the books to be moved out of the high profile, super-easy access (they are at floor level) location that they are in now -- that every kid entering the children's part of the library walks by -- and to move them to another part of the children's section, maybe the grade 3-5 part or the 5th grade up part. Kids could easily still find them there, and older kids would likely to be more sensitive to the historic context in which they were written. No one is suggesting banning anything. Two online book sellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) says the books are for ages 8+ (in other words, grade 3+).

Anonymous said...

Racism, unfortunately, is part of who we were, part of who we are as a society. Censorship is clearly not the way to go. Neither is avoiding these type of books altogether.

Bring your kids to the library and make it a teaching experience. After all, those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.

Make your kids aware at an early age and maybe they'll grow up in a world where we will not give race a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Stop using the library as a baby sitting service. And when you're there with your kids, get off your damn phone and read to them.

Dr. Ed said...

Someone raised a very interesting point back when Bush 41 sought to respond to the Johnson v. Texas decision with a Constitutional amendment to outlaw burning the American Flag.

Before Bush (and others) had raised the issue, and excepting cases in which the building displaying it also burned down, there had been a grand total of something like 2 or 3 incidents of flagburning -- nationwide -- in the past couple years.

But now that GHWB was making an issue of it, everyone was doing it. And now, not so much.

How long have those books been there?

And how many people are going to want to read them now -- because they want to see what the fuss is about? Who otherwise wouldn't have ever wanted to read them, even if they even knew they were there...

And should the library ban them outright -- in the age of the internet -- do you honestly think you will prevent anyone from reading them, now they know they exist?

Good job folks.

Kurt Geryk said...

Nicole: I stand corrected, it was a "challenge"...I guess I needed to read a bit more before contradicting your statement. Thanks for your insight.

I'm proud that we have quality leadership in our town at this time, including at the Jones. Next to my childhood library The Jones is the best.

Kurt Geryk

Chimps, chumps and Ponziville pyramiders said...

"I'm proud that we have quality leadership in our town at this time, including at the Jones. Next to my childhood library The Jones is the best."

Aw hell yeah Kurt, with all that cabal-izing I mean cannibalizing of our allies, it's a miracle we have god damn ~anyone~ to be proud of...

Right???


(LOL what a friggan shill)


Yours forever,

RP


p.s.

Dance Kurt,

~dance~.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6ZB7CsSw6Q

Kurt Geryk said...

At least I'm always honest and forthright about what I'm feeling or thinking, and I've always been that way. It's rare these days for someone to put themselves out there and say "I'm sorry, I made a mistake" or "I was wrong, and thanks for the information". Saying "I stand corrected" and praising good leadership apparently looks like "dancing" to you, which tells me how much honesty and integrity you possess!

Most of what I read on comment pages online is like two fists pounding into each other over and over, very little real conversation or listening to someone else's point of view, the equivalent of a drive-by flip-off. Sometimes people even get caught in direct lies with their comments online and they can't even admit it, and sometimes people want to portray themselves as the objective providers of "the facts" and "the data", but have secrets they can't release.

"Chimps, chumps and Ponziville pyramiders": you're just a bad poet and a negative creep and a coward lurking in the shadows of the internet, like a rat in the sewer. You can't even personally stand behind the drivel you get Larry to publish for you. I know you're afraid to, and you'll likely just respond with some weak roach analogy, but get in touch if you'd ever like to have a sit-down and discuss what's on our minds.

Kurt Geryk

Ecce homo! said...

"but get in touch if you'd ever like to have a sit-down and discuss what's on our minds."


Been there, done that, Kurt.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DZNDEqcSi0


Caro mio, save it.

You have money to count.

Capisci?


RP

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what the fuss is about, much less the outrage. The parents simply wanted them moved to the young adults section. They specifically said they didn't want to ban the book. Walter, TinTin is a book designed in the 1930's for kids. Have you read TinTin in the Congo? I have. You think a publisher today would designate that a kid's book? Obviously, the library already "censors" by having some books in the kids room, some in young adults, etc. I feel like I must be missing something. Sounds like the library made a kneejerk decision to me.

Anonymous said...

Nicole and Walter, lots of books written and intended for kids in the 1930's wold not be considered appropriate for them now. I'm not super familiar w/the TinTin series. But, Nicole, if the library really doesn't screen the books they put into the kids section, which they admitted to in the article, seems like the parents may have a point.

Walter, "banning history"? Moving a book from the children's section to the young adults section is banning history? That's a little over-the-top, don't you think? This sounds like something less than n all-out assault on the Bill of Rights to me.

Kurt Geryk said...

That's exactly where I became confused. Does the library EVER recategorize a book? For what reasons? Does moving a book's location each time mean they are making it less accessible? What about when books are deaccessioned or discarded? Does the library's decision to discard a book mean they don't want to make it accessible, ie,. "censorship"? What criteria does the library use to decide whether or not a book gets discarded? And who makes that final decision? Why would/should the decision be left solely up to one or two librarians and not the people who support the library with their tax dollars?

Kurt Geryk

Kurt Geryk said...

Christopher Hoffman, an engineer at the University of Massachusetts suggested the followign to me:

"Kurt: dig further into the ALA website. In particular in their statement on combatting [sic] racism. They explicitly say they cannot support using age restrictions, warning labels, etc, as they are all forms of censorship."

My responses were as follow:

1) "Thanks Christopher, I appreciate that, after reading more I do see what you mean. I'm learning a lot about this issue. I also noted on Larry's blog that I was incorrect to say the request was not a 'challenge'-- it was."

2) "Christopher, some more questions were raised on Larry's blog and I have the following questions, I wonder if you have any insight:

3) "Does the library EVER re-categorize a book? For what reasons? Does moving a book's location each time mean they are making it less accessible? What about when books are de-accessioned or discarded? Does the library's decision to discard a book mean they don't want to make it accessible, i.e,. "censorship"? What criteria does the library use to decide whether or not a book gets discarded? And who makes that final decision? Why would/should the decision be left solely up to one or two librarians and not the people who support the library with their tax dollars?"

4) "Does re-categorizing a book constitute an "age restriction"? I don't believe so. (No one suggested a warning label, so let's get rid of that.) As far as I know, children can search and borrow from any section of the library. I know when I was only five years old I borrowed from all sections of my library. Christopher, having dug a little deeper, will you respond to this inquiry?"

Nicole, Walter, Christopher: let's continue this important discussion and not let the "average life span of an internet post" distract us from a meaningful conversation.

Kurt Geryk

Kurt Geryk said...

(I have posted on Nicole's facebook page, requesting that she rejoin this conversation.):

Kurt Geryk shared a link.
2 minutes ago
Nicole, several of us hope you will continue the discussion about censorship on Larry Kelly's blog; will you please rejoin the conversation?

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=5035949355013113578&postID=3331149532672137896&page=1&token=1388906029075

Dr. Ed said...

Kurt -- you need to understand one other thing though -- children a century ago were far better educated than they are now.

My grandmother taught Grades 1-8 in a one-room schoolhouse. I recently came across one of her textbooks -- in math -- and it couldn't be used for college freshmen today.

Take something like Youth Companion magazine -- that would be pressing the limits of the reading ability of most adults today -- and that was something that teenaged boys read a century ago.

So the library may well be in the difficult situation of doing two things concurrently -- both dealing with the controversy and realizing that they have something beyond the reading ability of a certain age group today, even though it wasn't when they bought it.

Kurt, I have all the degrees your wife does (and a couple she doesn't) -- I understand the argument that we are educating more people than we used to (and in some ways we are) but we also have lowered our standards. Take any of the 8th Grade exams from a century ago -- see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/12/1912-eighth-grade-exam_n_3744163.html -- and that's Huffington Post.

Of course, I say again -- if people hadn't made a fuss about those books, no one would have even known they were there...

Larry Kelley said...

I had never heard of "Duck Dynasty" until the recent controversy.

But I'm still not going to ever watch it.

Anonymous said...

"Kurt: dig further into the ALA website. In particular in their statement on combatting [sic] racism. They explicitly say they cannot support using age restrictions, warning labels, etc, as they are all forms of censorship."

Except that the Jones Library does all of that - children/young adults/adult books, waning labels, internet filters... If that really all counts as censorship, then either the library should get rid of all of it (is that what we want?) or be clear about the criteria they use to censor.

Anonymous said...

And never mind being an average Joe library user who wants to get his hands on something from the "special collections" those are reserved for elite academic types.

Asking to change which shelf a book sits on? Censorship my ass.

Larry Kelley said...

I've never had a problem gaining access to Special Collections, and nobody has ever accused me of being an "elite academic type."

Anonymous said...

Good for you, I don't even know where they're hidden.

Anonymous said...

and just because a 5th generation Amherstite has been able to gain access to special collections doesn't mean that someone else making a request as to where a book gets shelved is censorship or an attempt to ban it.

Larry Kelley said...

It's located upstairs. They even have signs posted.

And if that's not easy enough for you, they also have a bunch of fascinating stuff available on the web:

http://www.joneslibrary.org/specialcollections/

Anonymous said...

"Kurt, I have all the degrees your wife does (and a couple she doesn't)"

Clearly Ed's extra degrees have made all the difference. While Kurt's wife had to claw her way to the top of the Amherst public school heap, Ed just breezed into his position as full-time blog commenter. Now THERE'S a return on educational investment for ya.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. it appears you have to be a donor to censor materials and ban my access to them at the Jones Library:

"Restrictions on use:
The letters of Robert Frost to Edward M. Lewis are restricted by order of the donors. These letters may not be quoted directly for publication, nor can they by edited wholly or in part."

I don't get it, who owns the materials. who gets to skirt the restrictions and access them and who lets them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should re-shelve tin-tin in the congo in the young adult section and post signs that say where it is for all the people who are so worried about losing their access to it and about bans and censorship.

Anonymous said...

Oh I see, books get banned based on whether librarians think they are "awful" or "not relevent" or aren't "true to OUR mission"

http://awfullibrarybooks.net/why-weed/

and books get "weeded" because "Collections that go unweeded tend to be...unattractive, and unreliable informational resources."
- Will Manley, "The Manley Arts," Booklist, March 1, 1996, p. 1108

Hmmm

Here is a suggestion from www.libsuccess.com:

Step One: Start with one shelf and pull out the books on that shelf and just do a visual check. Using a quick glance, are there any books that look as if they need to be weeded?
Step Two: Once you have a pile of suspect books, apply the rules of deselection and make the decision to toss or keep.
Step Three: Take the books you have chosen to pull from the collection to a workstation. At this point, you complete the steps to remove a book from your collection and the author suggests tossing the book in the trashcan.

See? censorship happens every day!

Anonymous said...

There are much bigger problems in the world today. Amherst get a grip and start worrying about something important. This is trivial. If it is not trivial to an Amherst resident then they need to get a thicker skin. In the real world people are much harsher. I think the water or the air must make the residents of Amherst more sensitive than most. Or keep doing what Amherst residents do best, blah blah blah.

Anonymous said...

It's as if people just want to make their quick comment about issues that arise in Amherst, for example racism and censorship (trivial issues according to anonymous 8:39 PM) and then move on to the next "important" issue. For example, Nicole, on her blog, has moved onto the important issue of "Dog Park on Tuesday's City Council Agenda".

Anonymous said...

An interesting discussion on the trivial topic of book censorship:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpHxBUfufoI

Anonymous said...

At right around the 26:30 mark of the video linked above the director of the Peoria Public Library is asked about one time she moved a childrens' book from one location in the library to another, and she explains why that decision was made.

Anonymous said...

(Actually it is at around the 16:00 mark.)

Anonymous said...

"Good for you, I don't even know where they're hidden."

Try asking rather than presuming.

Anonymous said...

Exactly! as in, "where is tin-tin in the congo currently located?"

Larry Kelley said...

Of course these days there's probably a waiting list.

Anonymous said...

As much as I love Tin Tin, the Congo book is too much for me to stomach, much less let my kids see. All the adults and cultures are mocked in Tin Tin books, but the Congo book goes way past an acceptable level.

Anonymous said...

To me, following this discussion, seeing the above video and listening to the professor and librarian, looking at ALA guidelines for "weeding", considering suggested and required summer reading lists for our students, considering what is restricted in special collections, etc, it's pretty clear that we use highly subjective criteria when we decide what to recommend to our kids to read, what to include and not include or delete from our collectively owned collections in libraries, and so on. There's plenty of printed material that is not allowed in libraries, not pretty stuff, but it's there and has an impact in our lives.

in other words, let's not pretend that the decision to keep tin-tin in the congo in the children's section was because we or the board who made the decision have an over-arching commitment to make all material available, and not censor anything for anyone, and "ban" nothing, because we do tat everyday.

One thing that stood out to me in the youtube video above was when the professor from ISU was asked about how he deals with having a 13 y.o. son and believing that all books, "everything", is "on the table", he responded: "I let him pick and choose what he wants to read...but I try to get him to read the good stuff..." and that if one year his kid doesn't take to a book he encourages, such as dickens, he tries to get him to read the same book again next year. what comprises the "good" stuff depends on your culture, and it's a subjective opinion.

Chris Hoffmann said...

I just discovered this debate is continuing here. Kurt: I'm not just a UMass engineer, I'm one of the Jones Trustees. I don't have time to read through everything here while at work, but I might add some comments tonight. Remember, though, that I can't speak for the board -- anything I say would be my personal interpretations and my recollections of what was said and presented at the public meeting!

A few important factual corrections, though: the Jones does not have internet filters and we do not add warning labels. The Director was surprised to hear that some children DVDs apparently had been labeled. She did find a My Little Pony video that had a post-it note saying a parent had reported it had scary scenes. That note has now been removed.

Kurt Geryk said...

Christopher, it would be a privilege to hear your personal recollections and any opinions you have that you'd be willing to share! Among anyone who has commented publicly on this controversy you are probably the one who has given the topic the most consideration. Intellectual freedom and censorship ARE important issues, and I'm impressed that you're willing to step forward and potentially add some clarity to the "debate".

By the way, that was not my comment that suggested that the Jones has internet filters and warning labels, someone copy/pasted from one of my earlier comments. But now I'm curious: could anyone access ANY website that's out there on one of the computers at the Jones?

Kurt Geryk

Larry Kelley said...

I was able to access "Only In Amherst" from the Jones this morning.

Chris Hoffmann said...

Kurt, sorry, I tried to address two comments in one brief reply. I didn't mean to imply you were the one who brought up internet filters or warning labels.

But, the answer to your recent question is yes. To the best of my knowledge you can access ANY website from the Jones computers. If a patron were viewing a site and another patron reported they were being made uncomfortable by the patron's behavior, I'm sure the staff have ways of pointing that out to the patron. But there is no filtering done to prevent that situation from occurring.

One thing that should be clear from the discussion here, and from the debate at the trustee meeting, is that this is a complex issue with good arguments and good intentions on both sides. As a fellow trustee said, this was putting his lifelong membership in the NAACP in conflict with his lifelong membership in the ACLU.

As a public library I think it was clear which "good" needs to take precedence. But in other organizations, maybe a different solution is appropriate.

Kurt Geryk said...

Christopher, was the library's decision to continue to keep the book at it's current location in the building based at all in a belief that to move the book to another location within the library would amount to censorship or a "banning" of the material, or in a belief that the book would become less accessible?

(I'm going to repost this question as a comment in Larry's more recent post on the issue, maybe this post is getting too deep.)