By: Sarah Hicks
In most book challenges, there is one book that is targeted, for very specific reasons. The reasons behind the challenge may not be unique, but, at the very least, they are reasons that are specific to each challenged book. Well, a county in Florida is now doing away with the more personal approach to book banning that we’ve come to expect.
Instead of artisanally crafting each book challenge from scratch, Dixie County Superintendent Mike Thomas has issued a ban on materials with “profanity, cursing or inappropriate subject matter.” The directive apparently came after a parent complained about their child reading Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. The high school’s media specialist said, “The book contains valuable lessons about tolerance, racism and kindness.”
Alas, for the students of Dixie County, all that matters is that there might be profanity, which is, according to Mike Thomas, “[not] what our community is about.”
Regardless of what one might feel about the value of Gaines’ work, the unspecific language of the ban means many materials will no longer be allowed in Dixie County. Challenges and bans of materials in schools are bad enough; imprecise ones that allow a blanket banning on such shaky ideas as “inappropriateness” are significantly worse.
While the ban has already been protested by the National Coalition Against Censorship and six other organizations, it’s unclear exactly what will happen. It appears that there is significant pushback in the county, so hopefully we’ll soon be hearing about the end of it. However, I would not be surprised if more of these blanket bans popped up around the country. I would love to be wrong and have this whole directive be an outlier, a footnote in the history of censorship. But in case I’m not, it feels prudent to keep an eye on the situation in Dixie County, so we can at least know what kinds of arguments we’ll be up against in the future.
Sarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.