The S Word: A Censorship Rant

As a librarian and a comics fan, I know how hard it’s been for comics to achieve their newfound legitimacy in libraries. Most of the resistance actually comes from librarians, not from the public, but that could change. Now that Wal Mart’s discovered yaoi, can the book-banners be far behind? The recent controversy over Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, the Newbery winner (or, as I like to call it, the “Scrotum Kerfluffle”), reminded me that we’re already living in a climate of fear where librarians become their own worst enemies.

Just as comics can’t seem to escape their youth-corrupting reputation, librarians can’t seem to escape the “old prune in bun and glasses” image. The New York Times article saddened me, because it made the knee-jerk reactions of a few librarians seem representative of the field. If you missed it in such diverse news sources as the Times, on The View, Best Week Ever, or Bookslut, some librarians won’t buy the latest Newbery winner because it uses the word “scrotum” right on page one. Never mind that the word is used in a totally believable, age-appropriate way with no sexual implications (it’s a dog’s scrotum…honestly, any child who ever had a dog has seen one!).

The Colorado librarian who spoke to the Times (the one who said that “you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature”…snort!) came off sounding like a prune-faced bun-wearer, although some librarians are complaining that the article quoted them out of context. This was noted on Neil Gaiman’s blog, where Gaiman wondered incredulously that the Newbery Award wasn’t enough to protect a book from censorship. But I would bet the majority of librarians who aren’t buying Lucky aren’t offended by “genitalia.” They’re afraid, and rightly so, because they know that book banners don’t care about context, or redeeming social importance, or the millions of people who are happy to let their children explore the world through literature unhindered. Although the situation seems to be improving (fewer book challenges were reported this year than ever before), people can still lose their jobs over teaching, buying, or just defending a book in a school environment.

Yet librarians doom themselves when they base their collection decisions on fear. Some of the most publicized challenges of the past year were defeated simply because they were so obviously ridiculous, and I hope and trust that people will feel the same way about Lucky (check out this recently-compiled list of children’s books with “the s-word”). I’m more worried that the people who flip out over a single word will make it impossible for librarians to buy anything that pushes the envelope…what would they say if they knew I put Same-Cell Organism in my library’s young adult collection? Even here in liberal New England, I might have to fight for it—and it doesn’t even discuss genitalia.

2 comments for “The S Word: A Censorship Rant

  1. June 14, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Thats just screwy!! My librarians are cool so I hope they dont do that. We have like 2 old ones that dont like to deal with “young adults”. It’s so unfair though how some librarians WON’T put BOOKS in a LIBRARY because they have a *SLIGHTLY* innapropraite word in them! ONE WORD?!??!?! Thats sad! I read manga with worse words, and they are in my library!

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