Book about librarians vs. censorship a worthy read

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Librarians are often the unsung free-speech heroes or heroines in our supposedly free society. They protect the rights of the public to read and obtain material that offends others. These gatekeepers often face censorship challenges.

An angry parent might complain about a school library book featuring sexual themes, racially charged language, witchcraft or other material offensive to the parent. A public library patron may complain about a certain book or display. There may be community or school pressure to remove a particular book.

A new book, True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries, offers first-person insights of numerous librarians embroiled in censorship battles. Edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco and published by the American Library Association, the book is an excellent read.

Many of the stories are fascinating. One librarian had to deal with library employees who would hide or destroy books. Another had to defend the library’s right to carry Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel, Slaughterhouse Five. Another had to ward off censorship efforts by people opposed to a display of books on gay and lesbian themes.

One particularly poignant story features a librarian who initially decided against acquiring the book The Rainbow Boys for the library collection, in part because of the gay characters in the book. Later, the librarian — feeling guilty about her initial decision — changed her mind and ordered the book.

In the introduction, editors Nye and Barco write: “We hope that this book provides insights into how librarians protect the First Amendment in their communities.”

The editors have succeeded, as readers of this book will understand that many librarians have learned that defending the First Amendment can be stressful and difficult — though ultimately rewarding.

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