Library workers are trained professionals. Most librarians spend thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to earn a master’s degree which helps teach them not only how to serve their communities, but how to access, assess, and make available accurate information for their patrons. It is an art and a science of balancing community needs with factual information. It is a skill that is learned and practiced, rather than one that is inherent.
With continued undermining of the field’s professionals via right-wing volunteers developing their own review databases based on their opinion, rather than on knowledge of literacy, educational needs, and human development, it comes as little surprise to continue hearing demands that “both sides” of an event or story be made available in the library. The fact is, there are not two sides or “both sides” to every story. Suggesting so — and making materials available that purport to be such — is a fundamental disservice to the public.
This week, yet another school board suggested that in order to fulfill its mission, the library should ensure it offers books that tell “both sides” of the Holocaust. Gavin Downing, who you might remember from a long — and successful — book challenge from earlier this year, found himself once again pushing back against school leadership who thought themselves more knowledgeable about his job than him.
As reported in Forward:
A suburban Seattle school district employee said Thursday that if the district chose to carry books about the Holocaust “you have to be willing to have a book that disputes the Holocaust.”
Pamela Hawley, who was introduced during a meeting of the Kent School District Board as a “policy coordinator” but is listed in the school’s staff director as an executive assistant, made the comment during a meeting to discuss revising the system’s library policy following months of rancor over whether to ban LGBT books.
Gavin Downing, a high school librarian in the district, pushed back on Hawley’s statement on Twitter.
“You don’t need to give facts and misinformation the same platform, especially in a school library,” Downing said. “These things are not the same.”
Hawley’s suggestion not only undermines the base of knowledge and expertise from which library workers pull but it actively engages in perpetuating misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. The role of the library is to offer material that supports education, and in school libraries especially, the material supplements course content.
No educator who is doing their job actively teaches Holocaust dispute. The Holocaust happened, and there’s no other side to it. In an era of continued antisemitism, including a warning last week from the FBI for Jewish New Jersey residents to be especially cautious when attending places of worship because of credible threats, even the suggestion that books denying this event is itself antisemitic.
There’s an oft-quoted notion that every library should have a book in it that offends you. That notion goes hand-in-hand with the philosophy by which librarians develop their collection, in that it reflects the needs and interests of the community being served. This means, for example, having a book by a talking head or a politician that may be controversial (not purchasing whatever book Fox News host published through a traditional publisher would be quiet censorship if it is something that your community has expressed interest in). It does not mean purchasing patently false information. Will Tucker-Beck-Kelly’s latest screed in book form have misinformation in it and incite dangerous thinking? It’s likely. But that book is also not going to be used for research papers, and if it is, the individual using it will face the reality that it’s far from a reliable source. They are opinion, and they live on shelves in the library among similar books. They are not presented as fact, as research, or as reliable information. (Information literacy as it relates to these kinds of books is a subject for another day.)
No shelf space, not even in the most conservative communities or schools, is allotted for actively harmful, dangerous, disingenuous, mis/dis/mal information. That is not, nor has it ever been, the purpose of a library.
Anyone suggesting “two sides” to an event like the Holocaust within the context of knowledge, education, or truth does not deserve to be anywhere near those institutions.
The Holocaust is not a matter of opinion. It was a human atrocity.
Book Censorship News: November 11, 2022
- Starting with an infuriating editorial and I hope this really solidifies what has been said now for 18 months: the goal of these book bans isn’t to ban books. It’s to destroy the public eduction system and open up taxpayer money to private, religious, right-wing, white nationalist education. This individual from a libertarian think tank thinks he’s being clever in stating this, but literally, he’s just sharing the agenda.
- Elmbrook School District (WI) removed 7 LGBTQ+ books from the school library.
- Me and White Supremacy was used for a lesson in Somers High School (NY) and immediately, the book and lesson were halted after complaints.
- “The Wilkes County school board [NC] on Monday approved giving Wilkes school superintendents authority to immediately remove a book or other educational material from all schools after it is challenged by a parent, thus partly bypassing a process of review in place since 2006.” Superintendents as final authority. Great! And to completely undermine their own policy.
- Abilene Public Library (TX) tables the decision on removing or reshelving 30 books being challenged.
- A look at censorship in libraries in the Rochester, New York, region.
- Kerrville’s city council (TX) will be talking about the issue of “obscene” materials in the public library after a Banned Books Display caused protests and outrage from book banners.
- “The Prince William County School Board is considering a proposal that would require school administrators to notify parents ahead of any school-wide book readings or assemblies.” The fact that the same parents who complain about books are those who claim they don’t co-parent with the government is a head scratcher when they want the government — public schools in this case — to tell them what’s happening. This is in Virginia.
- Parents in Hilliard School District (OH) are complaining about books, including a parent whose kid is no longer in the schools.
- Nine more books are under fire in Nixa schools (MO). One of the books isn’t even in the district.
- How about a less infuriating story as the center of the censorship sandwich? Parents who were frustrated that Grapeville-Colleyville Independent School District (TX) would not be holding a Scholastic Book Fair because they hate books decided to hold their own book fair.
- Students held a walkout at Conway High School (AR) in light of new policies in the district directly targeting queer students, including new book policies.
- Carroll Community High School will keep Patricia McCormick’s Sold on shelves. More decisions on book challenges are forthcoming.
- Escambia County Schools (FL) have pulled The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an *optional* title for 12th grade reading.
- Huh? Huh. (Hollidaysville, PA). I want to know how pictures of a book sitting on a teacher’s desk are getting to the right-wingers — are they using their children as spies? What the hell message is THAT?
- Grandma is complaining that Julián Is a Mermaid is in the public library. That’s it. That’s the story. “This past June, she took her grandson to a story time reading event. She said the librarian chose a book, ‘Julián Is A Mermaid,’ that introduced the idea of transgenderism to read to kids ages 0-3. ‘I do not want my 3 year old grandson indoctrinated with the author’s view of normalizing a transgender lifestyle,’ she said. ‘This is a topic for my daughter and son-in-law to discuss with my grandson when he is an appropriate age.’” (South Parkersburg Public Library, West Virginia.)
- The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County (OH) has received complaints about queer books in the collection and responded by reiterating the purpose of a library (this is good!). What’s less good is their decision to move some graphic novels from the teen area to the adult area.
- Dickinson Public Library (ND) heard from residents on the challenged book Let’s Talk About It. A decision on whether it stays is forthcoming.
Also In This Story Stream
- Book Ratings Systems Are Not a Solution: Book Censorship News, November 25, 2022
- My Book, Plus 300+ Others, Is Banned in Missouri: Book Censorship News, November 18, 2022
- Book Banners are Weaponizing Legitimate Resources: Book Censorship News, October 28, 2022
- Republicans Propose Federal “Don’t Say Gay” Bill: Book Censorship News, October 21, 2022
- What’s a Book Sanctuary?: Book Censorship News, October 14, 2022
- Book Banners Insist They Don’t Ban Books: Book Censorship News, October 7, 2022
- Who “Parental Rights” Groups Leave Out: Book Censorship News, September 30, 2022
- Who Are The Groups Banning Books Near You?: Book Censorship News, September 23, 2022
- A Banned Books Week Action List: Book Censorship News, September 16, 2022