Krug, Whelan, Heather

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Your Humble Blogger notes that Judith Krug has died. This being National Library Week, I'll take the opportunity to further discuss my feelings about the Banned Book week that Ms. Krug helped to found. A few years ago I wrote about Banned Books week, saying among other things that “I think the ALA is being misleading if not outright dishonest in pretending that it is defending ‘banned books’.” My point being that it is much, much more complicated than that, and that my preference is that the ALA defend what it really is defending, the authority of the librarian to make choices for the library. Which is what I support. And, further, I support the librarian's choice to make a wide range of books available, with a lenient eye to offensive language, sexually explicit material, and positive depictions of GLBT stuff, political dissent and other good things. Within reason, depending on the library at issue; elementary school librarians should be making different decisions than university librarians. But it should be the librarian who makes the decision, and if the community doesn't like it, they should fire that librarian.

Now, to backtrack a bit. I do find Banned Books week problematic and somewhat misleading. But I support the ALA in pushing back against the pressure that a lot of librarians feel to use somebody else's judgment rather than their own. I found much of Debra Lau Whelan's article A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship in the School Library Journal fascinating on that topic. It's a mistake to think that librarians (or anybody else) can consult their own judgment entirely, able to clearly identify and reject any pressure from any community. What the ALA is doing with its Banned Books week is to exert a little counter-pressure of their own. A librarian belongs to a community of librarians (likely enough) as well as a neighborhood and school, and there's no reason for the good guys to act as if only the bad guys are allowed to push.

What Banned Books week does, as a media ploy, is provide a context in which the individual librarian can make a better decision. And to provide a context in which a librarian knows that he will get legal support as well as community support if a decision is challenged. Those are very important things. When Ms. Krug fought for Banned Books Week, it was within the context of legal battles and public-opinion battles not only for the right of librarians to make their own decisions about their own libraries, but to increase the allowable books all around. I support that cause. I suspect my fondness for libraries (and library work) comes in part from the work that Ms. Krug did in identifying libraries as safe places for the mainstream to get bigger.

You see, when I said a couple of years ago that Heather Has Two Mommies is a long way from the shore of the mainstream (if a bit to the side of the center), I should have acknowledged that it is in the mainstream because libraries fought to widen that stream, and Ms. Krug, may she rest in peace, was a large part of that fight. I still have my problems with Banned Books Week, but in practice, it has been a positive thing.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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