Most state legislative sessions are wrapping up this time of year, so it’s time to revisit bills introduced in Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, and Idaho that would allow librarians to be criminally charged over materials in the library collection and check their status.
Both the Indiana and Iowa State Legislatures have introduced legislation regarding criminally charging libraries and librarians over “inappropriate” material. These bills are closely related to widespread book challenges occurring at schools and public libraries across the nation, with people trying to remove books that address certain topics relating to gender, sexuality, and race from library collections. In many cases there is already a clear process for reconsidering materials in a collection, so how do legal defenses play a role in this and what do the bills change?
It also demonstrates cowardice and intolerance. If you disagree with someone’s viewpoint, you should have the courage and respect to share and discuss the reasons behind your beliefs. And more importantly, you should have the courage and respect to listen to ideas other than your own.
However, I’d argue that one of the reasons our country doesn’t experience these dangerous laws is because of the perpetuation of the importance of intellectual freedom by hardworking librarians. I believe the reason we have access to and the freedom to read all books, even controversial ones, is, in part, because of awareness campaigns like Banned Books Week.
Dubbed self-censoring, there is a growing concern that many librarians are purposefully omitting certain books and content from library collections due to personal bias opposed to professional judgment. According to an article in the School Library Journal, self-censorship is “a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections.”
Setting aside the fact that it’s just rude, rescinding an author’s invitation to speak because the content of their book is controversial is, in fact, censorship. The physical book may not be off the shelf, but the author’s message is still being stifled. One person is making a choice for the entire school community, that what this author has to say is not of value.
One of the hardest things about censorship is that it can come from a good place — an urge to protect or shield someone from something “bad.”