Graphics from ALA

In February of 2009, Debra Lua Whelan published an article in SLJ about self censorship by librarians: “A Dirty Little Secret.” It’s a must read for librarians for sure, but also for anyone in the publishing business. In conjunction, SLJ surveyed it’s “Extra Helpings” readers about self-censorship. The results are shocking. Here are a few of the lowlights:

  • 70% said possible reaction from parents kept them from buying a book.
  • 87% said sexual content has kept them from buying a book.
  • 47% said homosexuality has.

Statistics like this make me reflect upon my own choices. While I pride myself on buying books about hunting and the military when I myself am an aquavorian pacifist, I do have my touch points, namely misogyny in general and violence against women in particular.

Case in point: more than one (male) student has asked if we have Tucker Max’s I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell. We do not. I can hide behind my collection development policy here: the only professional review I could find came from a humor roundup in Booklist which called it “foul and misogynistic.” On the other hand, The Gossip Girl books aren’t exactly burning up with positive reviews and I have those. Picked up secondhand usually, but still they are on my shelves.

So is this self-censorship or collection development? Am I letting what offends me get in the way of my decisions? After all, it seems inconsistent of me to chastise people for wanting to keep what they feel is offensive off the shelves, while I won’t purchase certain books that rile me. Librarians, have you ever kept something off the shelf because you disagree with its content or because you fear a challenge?

Banned Books Week: Before Books Get on the Shelf
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