(Intern 2 points out the hopefully symbiotic relationship between public libraries and private discernment.)
Yesterday a Facebook Friend of mine posted a story about finding a library book that had undergone a little DIY expurgation. Someone who’d checked out the book previously had taped blank bits of paper over every description of a pretty girl character. The Friend posted one of the covered descriptions in its entirety. It said basically that the girl was slender and graceful, and mentioned the shades of her hair and skin. That was all.
Because this Friend is a homeschool grad who might have been in my church youth group had she not lived in another state, I’m going to go ahead and call her Yefemiya. And while I’ve known a number of Yefemiyas and McHaleys whose mothers or fathers might have censored their library books with blank pieces of paper (and not de-censored them upon return. No one, at least, seems to have been capable of breaking out a black Sharpie for this purpose), this Yefemiya and her parents found it hilarious. And silly.
I find this hilarious and silly, too. In fact, the thought of this story even now makes me break out into huge, heaving breaths of laughter that are the physical equivalent of sobs. In a moment Intern 1, who shares the office, is going to be looking at me strangely.
But there it is. Yefemiya found an innocuous book in the library that was censored by another library patron.
Maybe it is debatable that the taped-over passages in the book were innocuous, but it is not debatable that the book, a public resource, was censored by one person, by an individual.
To be fair, this individual may have simply forgotten to remove the papers before returning the book. But it is not impossible that the individual left them in deliberately for the benefit of other patrons.
It’s not impossible that the papers were left in deliberately, because the attitude behind such an action is very much a present and living thing.
This is the attitude that the public library, a resource operated for the benefit of every single person in the community, should remove from availability any materials an individual deems problematic. And this is not what the library is for.
I am not saying that some materials are not objectively problematic, or that all materials should be of unquestionable access to all patrons. In fact, I am highly in favor of “issue” picture books being given their own shelf, separate and apart from the rest of the children’s section, so that I can set my future children loose to choose books without worrying that they’ll come back with “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt.” But it is not within the library’s proper authority, or sphere, if you will, to remove “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt” from circulation entirely.
This is not what the library is for. The library is there to provide the materials that suit its capacity and the demands of the community as a whole. Staff cannot and do not prevent patrons from using the whole library system to obtain materials that their library does not stock.
The public library exists to freely provide information and resources to the public.
We, as the public, are then free to choose what we take and what we do not take. We are free to be discerning.
We, not the library, are responsible for overseeing what our children are exposed to. We are free to help them be discerning.
These are our rights and responsibilities as individual library patrons. Or as library non-patrons (it’s a beautiful thing, our liberty to abstain).
The library, not us, makes materials available either remotely or immediately available to everyone. The library is not the gatekeeper.
We can be the gatekeepers for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We cannot make the library be the gatekeeper for others. And we cannot be the gatekeeper for others themselves.
It is well within a parent’s right to censor the library book their child borrowed in a way that does not permanently deface or damage the book, which is after all not their personal property.
But leaving the paper in an attempt to protect other patrons who later check the book out is not only silly and easily undone, it oversteps one’s just authority.
As Yefemiya, in laughing with her family as she described, understands.
So use and enjoy the library, and exercise your own discretion.
As always, sincerely yours,