Wednesday, 30 April 2014

An absolutely true story of part-time censorship...

So, through my recent library blog reading, I've noticed that over the past few weeks, Sherman Alexie's YA bestseller, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" has made the news. Addressing issues of racial discrimination, indigenous identity and disability, alongside the usual fare of bullying, masculinity and emerging sexuality, it won the National Book Award in 2007. 

In this most recent widely-publicised incident, a group of parents lobbied the Meridian District School Board in Idaho on the 2nd of April, to remove the book from the syllabus, where it had been taught since 2010, and rejected the proposal that the book be kept on a supplemental reading list, where students could read it with their parents permission.

It has also been on the ALA's list of ten most frequently challenged books for five years in a row. A challenge has been defined as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

At this meeting, one of the students from the district, 17 year-old Brady Kissel presented a petition to the board, signed by 350 students, opposing the motion. When word of this decision spread, funds were raised to purchase 350 copies of the novel, which, with the support of the local bookstore, were given away in a World Book Night event on the 23rd of April.

Apparently, though, some concerned citizens felt that distribution of this children's literature was somehow an illegal activity, and the police were called. Unsurprisingly, it was ascertained that this was, in fact, not against the law.

Once the publisher heard word of the incident, they donated a further 350 copies of the book.

Often irreverent and frank, with comic illustrations, this book frames many of the its central themes in a way accessible to middle-school student, of particular appeal to male reluctant readers. As librarians, we stake our reputation on our ability to make good judgements in providing literature to children that they will connect well with and challenge their views in a productive way. And Absolutely True Diary is an excellent example of a book that does this well. 

Furthermore, as librarians, we have professional principles to adhere to when it comes to censoring material in our collection. ALIA's Statement on free access to information states that library services have responsibilities to support the free flow of information, including:
"adopting an inclusive approach in developing and implementing policies regarding access to information and ideas that are relevant to the library and information service concerned, irrespective of the controversial nature of the information or ideas." (2007)
And yet, whilst have a responsibility to provide a collection that meets the needs of students, we also need to maintain the trust of parents, as the legal guardians of the students. By being strident opponents of censorship, we risk alienating the parents of students who need our help, rather than working alongside them to aid their children's development as readers.

One I've learnt from exploring this issue is that censorship is rarely a black-or-white matter. It's one thing to proclaim freedom of information, but offending the cultural sensibilities of clients is most likely a counter-productive course of action! Given the long-standing list of challenged books, this is an issue that most children's and young adult librarians will need to address on a semi-regular basis.

References

ALA (n.d.). Frequently challenged books of the 21st century. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10

ALIA (2007). Statement on free access to information. Retrieved from https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-standards-and-guidelines/statement-free-access-information

Gonzales, E. (2014, April 23). Meridian Police show up to free book giveaway. KBOI2. Retrieved from http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/Meridian-police-show-up-to-free-book-giveaway--256475781.html

Hathaway, J. (2014, April 29). Parents Call Cops to Stop Kids From Handing Out Banned Book. Gawker. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/parents-call-cops-to-stop-kids-from-handing-out-banned-1569491566

Kirch, C. (2014, April 24). World Book Night: Taking a Stand for the Banned. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/61998-world-book-night-in-idaho-taking-a-stand-for-the-banned.html

Roberts, B. (2014, April 2) Meridian School Board votes to remove controversial book from curriculum. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/04/02/3112930/meridian-keeps-book-off-shelves.html