Banned Books Week, Library Censorship, and Common Sense

So, I work at a public library. I’m not a librarian; you get that title only upon completing your Master’s, although most library employees will reply to “librarian” just to save time. I work full-time creating programming for teenagers, in a big, decently well-funded, flourishing library system, and for this I’m extremely fortunate. I see my job as an extension of an institution that does some of the greatest good there is to do in communities.

Not everyone agrees.

This week we’ve gotten on the national news for choosing not to buy the graphic novel version of a book that has previously been released, and acquired by us, in a variety of other formats. The reason this made national news is because the book is critical of the Democratic presidential candidate. In an example of truly bad timing/incredible irony, Banned Books Week starts September 25th. This is exactly the kind of press you don’t want, as a library.

Now, all of this could come back to bite me in my professional ass, so let me preface: I’m offering my own, private opinions here. I don’t think my opinions have any place in my workspace, which I do my best to make a welcoming place for everyone. My library is not responsible for my dumb thoughts.

Besides, I don’t want to really talk about politics or right or wrong. Saying that we have been slandered might be a bit much; to say that we have been misrepresented by all the news outlets that have repeated the story seems to be true. Choosing not to buy a book can come down to any number of reasons, from “I don’t think it’ll circulate well” to practical reasons like money and what exactly we can get from our suppliers. We have, like many larger library systems, a complex policy system in place regarding what books we can acquire, from where, and what can be done with donated books. We have a lot of good responses to a lot of people who have a lot of beliefs about what we do that are being fueled by the kind of close-but-not-quite purposefully inflammatory statements that make my skin itch.

The beliefs about libraries is, really, the part that gets me. I think the most common consensus among the comments I read on these articles is that librarians are all old, liberal lesbians; the next most common was that there’s always a homeless man pooping in the corner. I was genuinely surprised by that one. A homeless man, pooping in the corner? Always? It’s true we have a lot of homeless people in libraries, but it’s for the same reason that you run at the gym instead of around your neighborhood–why do what you do if you can do it someplace with central A/C and wifi?

You can imagine how the other common threads went. We are controlled by liberals who want to destroy everything. “The brown shirts are out,” “soon they’ll be burning books,” etc. Of course we don’t burn books; we throw them in the dumpster. More people should throw away books, actually. I’ve contracted at least three serious illnesses from mildewed, blood-stained, fluid-covered books that people just won’t throw away, because the spectre of Fahrenheit 451 flickers in their brain. Most information is immortal these days; you can’t take anything away by occasionally putting a book out of its misery.

(I’m genuinely not kidding about the diseases. If you leave a library book out in the rain or your cat pees on it, please, for the love of everything. Write down the title, throw away the book, and tell the library you need to pay for it. Our immune systems will thank you.)

I think it’s easy to tell from my dyed hair and public profession and bisexuality that I’m a liberal. I admit openly that I don’t know anything about financial issues and generally vote on social issues and keep my mouth shut about things I don’t know about. And I generally don’t go where conservatism lives. It’s just not a place where I would feel comfortable, and I know many conservatives wouldn’t much like me. But reading those comments was like stepping into a shadowy other-world, not only a world deeply ill-informed about libraries, but also a mirror reflection of the one I’m used to. It seems like everyone is concerned about the wrong people controlling us and screwing us over; we just disagree on who those people are.

So while my knee-jerk reaction was to align with my liberal self, as a library employee, here’s what I want to say:

Please come. We would love to have you. We would love to circulate as many anti-Hillary and pro-Hillary and Hillary Duff titles as we realistically can. We don’t buy books sometimes, and it is not censorship, and you are free to talk to our board of directors if you think it is. We do buy books sometimes, and we will never remove them from the shelves if they offend someone, unless we are truly terrible at our jobs. Homeless people abound, and mostly they sleep, play internet games, and apply for jobs. This is also true of literally every other library demographic. We have storytimes and teen read-ins and craft projects and a Wii and DVDs and movie nights and books, books, and books. We do our best to be what every human being needs when they walk in, and if we’re not, we’d like to know. We’re here for you.

Please come. If there are any homeless men pooping in the corner, I’ll buy you dinner.

Come talk to me on Twitter at @yipp33kiyay.

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