Saturday, September 25, 2004

Banned, Challenged, and Assigned Books

Happy Banned Books Week! Hope your tree is trimmed and your pumpkin is carved. Congratulations to the American Library Association for creating this Hallmark holiday.

That's right, in between protesting the Patriot Act and promoting one of Michael Moore's books, the librarians have time to plan a celebration that rivals Alligators in the Sewer Week and Spider Eggs in Bubble Gum Week.

A close examination of what qualifies as "banned" or "challenged" reveals that the ALA does not want any interference with its choices for acquisitions or curriculum. To them, any complaint about accuracy or age-appropriateness is the equivalent of a book burning.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive collection of books that are published in the United States. Every other American library's collection will be a smaller subset of this. Each library must choose which volumes to acquire and shelve. When a librarian makes that choice, it is deemed to be based on quality or pedagogical criteria. When a taxpayer or parent questions that choice, it is deemed to be narrow-minded censorship.

The arrogance is compounded when discussing school curriculum. In choosing a certain book for a certain class in a certain grade, it is necessary to whittle down the millions of books in the Library of Congress to a mere handful. Then students must attend classes, under penalty of truancy, and read the assigned books. Is it wrong for parents and taxpayers in a free society to involve themselves in the choice of books? Should we limit the discussion to those people with degrees in teaching or library science?

Government employees who seek to squelch citizen dissent should be careful when they throw around terms like "censorship."


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