Friday, April 17, 2009

I Have a Difficult Question....

There's a difficult question sitting on my desk in the form of three books.

The books are from an engaging children's fantasy series. It's not a series I've read but comes recommended by other children's librarians I know.

The author is currently on trial for possession of inappropriate imagery of that age group for which he writes. (Link may not be safe for work) Forgive the obscure language as I try to figure out how not to be picked up in searches for the actual phrase.

At least one coworker strongly disagrees with my concern, believing the books should stand on their own merit and citing other author bad habits. Yes, Poe was a drunk and Orson Scott Card has been raked across the coals for his opinions, and we still read and suggest their works. I may not agree with their behavior or opinions, but it's not illegal. And it's true that I could come up with a long list of authors who have done illegal things--certainly some of them have gotten book deals BECAUSE of their illegal acts. But this is the accusation of an act against the young patrons I work with every day. And that triggers all kind of squeamish for me.

I've not yet worked somewhere that we were frequently challenged on books so I've not had the opportunity where I needed to borrow from Jamie LaRue's reasoned points.

What is pinging about my brain:
* Merit of the book v. Opinion on the Human Being who wrote it
* A man is innocent until proven guilty
* It is violence against children
* The news story is particularly strongly worded
* Censorship based on my reaction to the author
* Children like to contact the authors whose books they enjoy--guess what comes up when you type this author's name into a search engine.

Censorship is one of the strongest negative words in information. It's one Judith Krug spent her professional life fighting against, to the notice even of the New York Times.

Where I'm at now:

1) I need to go home this weekend and read the books. I don't imagine I'll find anything insidious in them, they've been read by many librarians before me but, as with any possible book challenge, it's good to know exactly what is in the pages.
2) I need to sit down with my immediate supervisor, Madame Storyteller, and possibly Madame Director and discuss all these questions. I'm a firm believer in gleaning wisdom from people I respect.
3) I need to review how the books have been circulating, as this is one of the collections I manage.

What I expect:

The books will probably go back on the shelf. So no one is blindsided by the issue should it arise, I'll make sure my youth services coworkers, Mesdames Storyteller and Director are aware of the trial and of what happens at the end of it.

And I personally will continue to be revolted at the idea of what this author is accused of having said and done.


Chris Yarbrough said...

You raise a very interesting question. I think it depends on the perspective from which the book is approached. Consider that Lewis Carrol, one of literature's most beloved children's author may also have been a pedophile. Banning the book, if such a drastic measure were attempted, would be difficult, not to mention impossible. It's literary value cannot be denied. However, in the case of the author you have mentioned, and any other whose intentions regarding children are, shall we say, "less than honorable," I think the parent or guardian of the child should consider the ideas the book may be trying to promote and the mindset of the author, before allowing a young and impressionable child to absorb its contents.

While I don't believe that libraries should restrict access to literature from responsible adult readers, what our children read is an altogether different matter. Just because a book may be targeted to a certain age group, doesn't necessarily make it appropriate reading. For instance, look at all of the books targeted to adults. Some of them would do well as kindling --at least to many of us. That being said, which of us is unbiased and judicial enough to know where to draw the line?

Your question is definitely worthy of serious consideration, particularly as our society continues to embrace more progressive and unorthodox ideas. For a librarian --the very medium between readers and books, the question may not have an easy answer.

As the writer of the above linked post regarding the charges of illicit imagery, I found myself considering the same issue. Awareness and interest in what our children are reading is crucial. I wouldn't want my child reading any book by the accused --but to pretend that the book was never written, and effectually making that so, is bad medicine, and would most likely incite even more interest in its pages and provide mystery to the otherwise mundane.

Tim K said...

I still find your argument for banning weak. Yes I am that co-worker. I would argue the 99% of the kids who read those books will never know or care what the predilections of the author was. The rest just seems to be hysteria.