Okay, it was inevitable. After 616 posts, I was bound to tick off someone.
And I'm probably going to tick off more people with this post.
I'm postponing my blogging plans for tonight to address the individual, who identified him/herself only as SafeLibraries.org, when s/he posted the comment to my blog of Saturday titled "Controversy Over An Award."
In that blog, I wrote about the uproar over the Newbery Medal winner for 2007. A number of librarians are refusing to order the book because the author--herself a librarian--used the word "scrotum" in a book intended for children.
I would have considered the entire affair silly if I didn't find it so sad. The scrotum is both a part of the human body and a perfectly legitimate word. I'm unclear as to how its use/knowledge could harm a child. Actually, I find it pretty amazing (and one of God's many miracles) how the scrotum serves as the cooling system for the testes, preventing sperm from overheating and becoming sterile.
When we begin to fear a legitimate anatomical word simply because it's part of the reproductive system, we are--in effect--placing a value judgment on scientific knowledge, and we're in trouble.
Oh, wait, some states/schools/administrations are already placing value judgments on scientific knowledge. Things like global warming and evolution. We ARE in trouble.
While I have had a policy of not permitting anonymous comments on my blog, I'm going to leave the post on Saturday's blog in place. However, I am not going to permit the poster to hide behind an organizational name that implies an army of support. I'm going to refer to him/her as S.L.
S.L. started out innocuously by stating, "I did not think the inclusion of that word [scrotum] and nothing more is a big deal."
Then, s/he gets down to the real reason for posting, which completely belies the earlier comment: "Keeping sexually inappropriate books away from children is NOT censorship."
S.L., I beg to differ. The last time I checked the definitions for "censorship" and "censor" (about ten minutes ago), that's EXACTLY the definition: "to supervise public morals; hence, any supervisor of public morals; person who tells people how to behave. A person whose task is to examine literature, motion pictures, etc. and to remove or prohibit anything considered unsuitable."
I doubt anyone would argue that children should be protected from inappropriate material. I do find it interesting that S.L. is totally focussed on "sexually inappropriate" material. I would include violent, racist, sexist and hate-mongering among the inappropriate materials that concern me.
In addition, I'm concerned about a bigger question: How a community at large decides what IS inappropriate material. In China, anything that the state deems inappropriate is banned. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was once banned in this country because of Huck's character (or lack thereof). Catcher in the Rye was once banned for use of the word "hell." Some Americans even objected to The Diary of Anne Frank.
I mention these books because once you start censoring, it's difficult to know when and where to stop. How do you draw the line? And, more importantly, who do you trust to draw that line? I keep remembering that old adage about power corrupting.
I am not in favor of censorship. I AM in favor of parents supervising their children and the books, movies and games used to entertain those children.
I am in favor of free speech--including the right of S.L. to espouse whatever position s/he chooses. I spent a few minutes--a very few minutes--reviewing the stuff on S.L.'s website. Frankly, it felt like the lurid, wild-eyed newspapers that decorate the checkout line in my grocery store. (Note to S.L.: There's nothing wrong with a little white space on a website. It's restful for the eyes. And using a larger font and color does not lend weight to your arguments).
I am second to none in my respect and admiration for librarians. I once considered entering that profession myself. The challenges librarians face in a fast-moving digital world are enormous. Fortunately, the vast majority of them recognize that it is not their job to decide what constitutes "morality" in a community.
And, when in doubt, they (and us) can always refer back to that flexible document known as the U.S. Constitution with its 45 little words known as the First Amendment.
P.S. While I do not plan for this blog to become a political forum, in the interests of full disclosure, I want to point out that I consider myself a moderate Republican. A moderate Republican who, since I had the benefit of observing George W. Bush's performance as governor of Texas, did not vote for him for president either time.