A Dirty Little Secret

February 18, 2009

The February 2009 issue of School Library Journal has a great article about self-censorship and school libraries called “A Dirty Little Secret: Self-censorship is rampant and lethal” by Debra Lau Whelan.  What is self-censorship?  It’s when you don’t buy a book because you’re afraid it might cause controversy or someone might challenge it.  It also includes making books less available by putting them behind the desk or requiring parent permission to read them, or putting an E book in the J section (or a J in the YA,) at a public library to minimize complaints and challenges from patrons and staff.  Luckily, the issues in the article don’t much apply to me in the public library, as we serve patrons of all ages and reading interests, though I have received requests to change the levels on books (E to J/J to YA.)

The points that stood out for me the most in the article are  how easy it is to slip into self-censorship for job security and the reminder that removing a title based on the disapproval of its content raises constitutional issues and this from ALA’s Caldwell-Stone:  “Students do have a measure of First Amendment rights, and it says that governments can’t censor materials unless they’re obscene, [contain] child pornography, or are harmful to minors.”  I would encourage school and public library workers to read this article and ask yourselves how you self-censor in your work.  If you’re not on the routing list for SLJ, you can read it through FVRL’s General OneFile database at the end of the month, or let me know and I’ll route a copy of the article to you.


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