February 7, 2013...10:47 am

Libraries and Violent Media

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One consequence of the recent  gun violence tragedies in the United States is increased scrutiny of video games, films, and other media with violent content held in library collections. As a result, libraries are now receiving requests to remove or restrict access to these materials. The discussion points below provide an intellectual freedom framework for talking about the issue of violent video games and violence in media with library trustees, staff, and library users. Resources listed below the discussion points provide more detailed information and analysis about violent media and intellectual freedom.

Discussion points:

- Like literature and film, video games are a creative and expressive medium that entertains, educates, and tells a story. Many libraries collect and lend video games to their users and host video game festivals and contests just as they host book discussions and film festivals.

- The courts of law that have examined the legal status of video games have ruled that video games are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. These courts have also ruled that laws restricting minors’ access to video games that are violent or are rated “Mature” are a form of censorship that violates minors’ First Amendment rights.

- For the same reasons it opposes the censorship of books, magazines, film, and the Internet, ALA opposes the censorship of video games. In accordance with the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics, librarians should resist efforts to censor or restrict access to video games and other violent media, whether in the library or in society as a whole.

- Current research does not conclusively link the consumption of violent video games or other violent media with societal aggression or gun violence. We know of no study that directly links violent behavior or reactions to a book, movie, or video game. ALA welcomes further impartial,  systematic and scientific study about whether or not violence in media has an impact on young people.

- Parents, not librarians, are responsible for determining what materials are appropriate for their children. While we firmly support the right of library users to voice their concerns and select different materials for themselves and their children, those objecting to violent media should not be given the power to restrict other library users’ right to access these materials.

- Libraries serve as critical community resources as the public addresses the controversy over gun violence. They supply information and research for the public debates over gun control, mental illness, and depictions of violence in the media. As our nation works to understand and find solutions to gun violence, libraries provide vital resources and spaces for community conversations.

Resources:

“Shooting the Messenger,” an essay that explains why social science research does not support a conclusive link between violent media and violent behavior.  While dated (2000) its findings remain valid. (PDF document)

“POW! CRACK! What we know about video games and violence,” The Washington Post, January 17, 2013. An article updating and summarizing research on the effects of violent media. (PDF document)

“Don’t Blame Video Games for Real-World Violence,” Christopher J. Ferguson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 10, 2013 (Available online at https://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/10/dont-blame-video-games-for-real-world-violence/ )

“Violence in Media: A Joint Statement,” signed by the Freedom to Read Foundation. (PDF document)

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants’ Association, U.S. Supreme Court, 2010. Court opinion overturning law restricting minors’ access to violent video games on First Amendment grounds. (Available online at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf)

2 Comments

  • Jacqueline Schector

    It’s very interesting that people are so much more concerned with gun “rights” then the established, fundamental rights relating to intellectual freedom. The ALA has taken the right stance on this issue of censorship of violent materials, and must continue to defend patrons’ rights to access this material. If we are concerned about violence in the US– which we should be– then let’s talk about gun control and leave libraries out of it.

  • I agree with Jacqueline, ALA is clearly taking “the right stance.” However, gun “rights” defenders or even “smokers” (the “lepers” of our age) are also in the right… Just b/c “my” smoking is unhealthy or unseemly, doesn’t mean that any one has a right to tell me that I MUST quit (you can appeal to my “common sense”, but you have to respect my “right” to mess with with my body! To paraphrase someone far wiser than I once said, “there’s nothing that come from outside is bad, only that which come from within is truly bad (i.e., envy, hatred, etc.)


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