Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Quiet Censorship

I have an ugly truth to share: there are materials in my collection that I dislike. I work in a large multi-branch public library system with centralized selection, so I have not been involved with the purchase of any of these materials. My lack of love for some of these items comes from a variety of reasons: poor writing quality, a didactic message, being super commercial. Many are innocuous fluff and aren’t hurting anyone by being available but I still see them as junk food. For the most part, these are books I probably wouldn’t put on display because they are so popular and easy to find already. But I am not opposed to their being on display.

Read more: Quiet Censorship

Some recent purchases, however, have caused me to pause and think about why I considered not putting these books on display. Did I want to avoid complaints? Or was there something even deeper, that something in the book made me feel uncomfortable? Could I compromise by putting them into the new books area but not face out? Was that still censorship? 

“Banned Books Week!” by San José Public Library is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Quiet, or soft censorship, can be defined as not purchasing materials because of personal reservations, rather than a professional evaluation of the need for them. It is not purchasing materials, weeding, or restricting access as a way to avoid controversy. It is not putting something into a display. It is using a sticker on a cover or coloring in an internal image. Each of these decisions affects our library users.

In a small survey of colleagues, more than half of the respondents said yes to “Have you ever not put a book on display for fear it would bring complaints from the public?” Is this censorship or just thinking about the sensitivities of your patrons and the range of ages you serve? 

No judgment is being made here. Preserving our jobs and serving our young readers has become a challenge. But maybe have a talk with yourself every so often and check to see if your decisions serve your young readers best, or just you.

Judy Ehrenstein is a children’s librarian with Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC. 

This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client
Group, IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials and VII.
Professionalism and Professional Development.

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