Sunday, August 2, 2009


I reached a state of confusion today. I thought I had a reasonable grasp of the library debate, even if imperfect. Now, I'm not so sure. An August 1st post on the WISSUP blog resulted in a lengthy set of comments and responses by myself and others. And now I'm sure I don't know what's going on.

I wrote:

OK, Safelibraries, let's suppose you're completely right. Let's imagine US v. ALA says what you believe it to say, and also that the law has the "standards" in it that you allude to. What, exactly, are those standards? In which legal code are they described?

This is not a broad question, but a practical and specific one. A librarian has a book in hand and is deciding whether or not it gets a warning label and whether or not it can be shelved in the Young Adult section. What are the practical criteria the librarian is to use? And in what law code is this set of criteria specfied?

Please be specific.August 2, 2009 5:52 PM

The response from SafeLibraries was:

No supposing is needed. Anyone can read the case for themselves.

As to what librarians should do, I have no idea. I'm not suggesting I do. But if no one does anything, then that effectively nullifies any US Supreme Court case, any law, any community standard, any common sense. Anything goes. August 2, 2009 6:00 PM

OK, I thought, that's one speaker heard from. Doesn't necessarily represent everybody on that side. But a few minutes later, West Bend Citizen Advocate responded to me and another commentator. I've extracted 2 numbered items verbatim:

2. There is no list of books that we are requested for banning. In fact, the lists we gave were for examples, which we tried to share with our librarians. Key word "tried."

5. The request(s) for me (or others) to lay down rules, guidelines, and formats for the library concerning labels, reclassification and the like are absurd and silly. I will not respond to questions such as these. When we met with the librarians, we asked them for their professional expertise in coming up with a plan or idea that would work for them and for the community. We do not discount the educational backgrounds of our librarians and feel that, if presented with a request such as what our community is asking for, they would have the training and support system to be able to comply with those wishes. August 2, 2009 6:17 PM

As we say in blog-speak: WTF?!

It appears there is a request by some West Bend residents to change the way some books are shelved in the library, and to have a warning label put on them. But there is no list of specific books to apply this to , and there are no specific criteria to be used in making these decisions.

Have I missed something? If a librarian is going to choose where to shelve a book or whether or not to label a book according to local community standards, wouldn't that librarian need a detailed description of those standards?

Could we go back to the petition circulated some months ago for guidance? Nope: it's long on words but no better on specificity. It uses terms like obscene, prurient, and patently offensive, which are famously difficult to define. Obscenity law allows the definitions of these terms to vary from community to community precisely because there is no universal understanding. And this means that in each community residents have to establish STANDARDS as to what these terms mean. See my post on obscenity law if you want more detail.

The citizens of West Bend are long overdue for an update from Ms. Maziarka and the WBC4SL as to what, EXACTLY, they want the library to do. This would not be at all "absurd and silly."


  1. I guess we will all continue to wait.....and wait.....and wait....

  2. Hi Non-Censor. I'm a young adult librarian at a small public library. I think the fundamental problem is that the librarians at West Bend DO put books in certain sections based on a set criteria, but because not everyone agrees with those criteria, they assume that 'anything goes.' This is patently not true. I agree with you, the librarians' criteria is seemingly not good enough, but no one is willing to give them an alternative.

    It may be considered outrageous to some, but the purpose of young adult sections in libraries and young adult literature in general is to serve the needs of young adults.
    Thats the needs of young adults, NOT their parents, many of whom would frankly prefer to be blind to the fact that teens are people with curiosity about and experiences with sex. Librarians don't force anyone to pick up and check out any book. But it is part of the job to provide books with a wide range of appeal to teens with wide-ranging experiences and developmental needs.

    Detractors of YA lit should read this excellent white paper by Michael Cart: It is from the Young Adult Library Services Association. I know that as a division of ALA it will be immediately discarded by some people, but the 'Position' section is especially enlightening for non-library personnel, I think.

    From that white paper is this quote that I think perfectly encapsulates one reason for having 'difficult' books in the YA section:

    "Still another value of young adult literature is its capacity for telling its readers the truth, however disagreeable that may sometimes be, for in this way it equips readers for dealing with the realities of impending adulthood and for assuming the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."

  3. Thanks for that, Libby. I've added the link you mentioned to the weblinks on my blog page. I also offer another quote from that paper here:

    Another value of young adult literature is its capacity for fostering understanding, empathy, and compassion by offering vividly realized portraits of the lives – exterior and interior – of individuals who are unlikethe reader. In this way young adult literature
    invites its readership to embrace the humanity it shares with those who – if not for the encounter in reading – might forever remain strangers or – worse — irredeemably “other.”

  4. There won't be a rational, reasonable answer because they don't have one. Their argument is emotional, not intellectual. They don't care about criteria, or training or specifics. They just want the books about the gay kids gone. And since their is no way to intellectually or constitutionally do that, they have resorted to the emotional call of "we must do this to protect the children."
    In their original letter to the library, the Maziarka's referred to being gay as a "condition." That kind of thinking doesn't go away simply because a new complaint is filed. It just gets hidden under "sexually explicit."

  5. It HAS ALWAYS been a gay issue for Ginny and crew from the very start. Read her WISSUP blog to see how she went after the school district about the harassment policy and the district's attempt to bring it in line with Wisconsin State Statutes. Also, how about her crusade against the teacher and the support group at the high school? Her complaint against the library started out as a complaint against gay material - "let's get rid of it and provide 'balanced' material" - this is her crusade and she tries desperately to rid society of the "homosexual agenda." The public library was her latest stop on the journey.