Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unsafe at Any Page Length?

Anyone know what the deal is with these folks (found via Parenthetical)?

GuideStar lists an organization called "Citizens for Safe Libraries" as a 501(c)(3), but that organization is based in Utah while the contact info for is in New Jersey and Illinois, so I'm thinking they're different. (Which raises some ethical issues with having a link for donations, if it's going to some guy's bank account.)

Google suggests that, despite the representation on their website as a concerned citizens' group, this is largely one nutjob with an axe to grind, using the net to link up with a few other people to form a letter-writing campaign--pretty much the 21st century version of the folks who've gone around trying to get Judy Blume pulled from libraries for the last few decades. There seem to be a few other groups like this out there (Citizens of Positive Education, for example, which seems to be the same sort of group, only in Ohio).

What I'm really curious about is how these groups intersect with the other socially conservative forces - specifically, conservative Christian churches (not that religion is a prerequisite for this sort of thing, just that they tend to have a structure already in place for it). Sometimes this happens by way of religious organizations putting up a secular front to win wider support, but a lot of the time it's independent "grassroots" groups that all get their talking points from the same place. (Which I suppose is why Looking for Alaska is on so many hit lists.)

Am I being paranoid?

As for the larger issue itself... I have the privilege of largely avoiding the issue of age-based restrictions (or general restrictions made in the name of protecting the children), as law libraries don't typically have minors as patrons.

As a child, I read a lot of material that many folks would have probably considered inappropriate, largely because I read a lot of material and didn't limit myself (I first read Stranger in a Strange Land in middle school, though I didn't understand much of it at that time). Shyness saw to it that I wasn't seeking out Playboy or The Joy of Sex (or for that matter sex ed materials of the sort more often seen as age appropriate) at the library, but the librarians allowed me to check out the more "adult" materials I did ask about. I don't remember if there was any sort of parental control option available - the only time my folks took issue with my reading material was a particularly garish nonfiction book about medieval magic, which they asked me to not keep with the other library books in the living room where guests might see.

Of course, this sort of issue isn't usually framed in the best interest of the child - rather, it's assumed that the parents know the child's best interests better than the child (which perhaps explains why Stephen King's Carrie is so often challenged?). There's no distinction made between protecting children and controlling them.

If it were completely up to me, I'd have no age-based restrictions; if a minor has enough acumen to seek something out, they're welcome to it. (Such a policy doesn't mean that the library couldn't revoke the privilege of accessing some material if the patron is just going to snigger over a naughty word or nude illustration.)

I guess what it comes down to is that I have a hard time picturing these materials doing actual harm. (With the possible exception of Bridge To Terabithia. Assigning that to fourth graders was just sadistic.) Certainly I don't see the sorts of materials that commonly get challenged as harmful (probably because I don't count rebelliousness as "harmful", and because I don't believe that adolescents aren't interested in sex unless they read a Gossip Girl novel). Certainly it doesn't cause the sort of harm that's better remedied by censorship than by providing better information.

I know this isn't really tenable in the society I live in, so perhaps it's for the best that I'm looking to be part of a more specialized field.

1 comment: said...

I know what the deal is with SafeLibraries. In a nutshell:

1) the US Supreme Court found it was "legitimate, and even compelling" to keep children from inappropriate material. This was in a case the American Library Association [ALA] lost and lost big.

2) The ALA said "despite" that case, ALA policy remains unchanged. The ALA considers it "age" discrimination to keep children from the same material the US Supreme Court told the ALA otherwise about. Is the ALA more authoritative than the US Supreme Court?

3) I think commmunities should know what the US Supreme Court said, should contrast it with what the ALA says as applied in community libraries, and should make informed decisions for themselves. As it stands now, ALA propaganda is the only thing citizens hear. As a result, informed consent is impossible. I'm for informed consent. I try to provide a little balance.

For example, you said, "Certainly it doesn't cause the sort of harm that's better remedied by censorship than by providing better information." That's misleading. Censorship? Keeping inappropriate material from children is censorship? The US Supreme Court is censoring children?

Ah. Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author. If not, is that censorship? Will my comment ever see the light of day?

My SafeLibraries blog, by the way, may be worth your subscribing to. That is, of course, if you are open minded enough to be willing to hear another point of view. Some people just accept the word of the ALA as gospel and denigrate anything else. Unlike how the ALA misleads people to accept only the ALA view, the choice of subscribing to my blog is yours.