Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sex & the City and Banned Books Week

We're in the midst of Banned Books Week (September 30 - October 6); an event I usually commemorate in some fashion.  The week is set aside to celebrate our First Amendment right of the freedom to read.  It's a chance to look back and reflect on how so many of the books that were banned or challenged are now considered innovative classics.


I still plan to put something together, but life's been moving too fast to formulate the thoughts from the ol' Miff mind into any kind of coherent anything...

So, in the meantime, I asked my good buddy Michael Saul, who works in a library in California, to share his thoughts on the subject; since he has the professional connection and all.

As I knew he would, he did so perfectly.  Lots to think about and unpack in the content below.  Do have a look and feel free to discuss...

And a big THANKS to Michael Saul for sharing!

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Sex & the City and Banned Books Week
By Michael Saul

Irate mother is waiting in my line. I can tell she’s chomping at the bit to bite my head off. This should be fun.

“How can I help you?”

A DVD case flies across the desk. I manage to catch it, but only just.

“This is NOT appropriate for my daughter! She should NOT be allowed to check movies like this out from your library!”

I look down at the case: Sex and the City 2.Well, that’s not appropriate for anyone, I think.

“Ma’am, she was allowed to check this out because we do not make determinations about appropriateness. Our patrons may check out anything in our library provided they have a valid library account in good standing.”

“My daughter is twelve years old! Would you check this out to her if she brought it to your desk?”

“Absolutely, ma’am. The items a patron checks out are up to the discretion of the patron and/or the parents/guardians of younger patrons. Opinions vary as to what subject matter is appropriate and when. We leave that question to our patrons.”

“That’s ridiculous. I don’t think anyone her age should be allowed to check this trash out.”

“Well, ma’am, that is something you’ll have to discuss with your daughter. We don’t make policies about what is appropriate or not. We simply provide the materials. It is up to you to decide what your child should or should not see.”

*****

Before you ask: yes, this is an actual exchange I had with a real library patron at the public library where I work.

“But what does this have to do with Banned Books Week?” you might ask.

To which I would answer: everything.

Well, everything as far as a library is concerned. Philosophically, disallowing a child access to books (or, in modern times, DVDs, CDs, magazines, ereaders, etc.) due to questions of appropriateness is the same as disallowing anyone access for similar reasons. It comes down to whether we can make any objective determination about what effect materials may have on our patrons – and, in most cases, what one person deems appropriate for a child another would call the most useless trash from the very guts of Satan. Neither would have many facts to back either opinion.

In the library where I work we hold any number of books I do not find appropriate for children. Not just in the regular collection where mostly adults browse, but in the section exclusively for children! But it is my job to put these books into little outstretched hands when I am asked. And since I believe in personal freedom and responsibility, I am happy to do it – even if that means a twelve-year-old girl walks out of my library with a copy of Sex and the City 2.

Upholding open access to information – a cornerstone of our much vaunted right to free speech – means allowing everyone access to things we don’t agree with. This is one of the maddeningly beautiful aspects of freedom: if you really want to be free you can’t decide what others should do with their personal life. And this includes what they check out from the library.

Banned Books Week is a chance to celebrate the access we all have to every horrible, degrading, ridiculous book, movie, and piece of music our fellow humans have created.

And, you know, the good stuff, too…



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