Is there any librarian out there who wouldn’t say (and loudly), “I am NOT a censor!”? I encountered someone recently who claimed not to believe in censorship, and explained in the next sentence that she thought this year’s Newbery winner did not belong in the children’s department of public libraries. Her reasoning was that it was a young adult book, I guess because the s-word did not belong in a children’s book. The main character is ten, and absolutely nothing happens that would be inappropriate in a children’s book, so let me just put it out there: she’s kidding herself. She wants to call it YA because that makes her feel better about not buying it. She is a censor.
But she’s not the only one. I’ll bet we routinely kid ourselves when we censor. For one thing, we always call it selection rather than censorship. Nobody can afford to buy everything, so part of what we are paid for is our professional expertise on which of the 4000+ books that will come out this year we will buy. Obviously we’re going to pick up the book on a current topic that’s gotten stars from the various review journals. Obviously we’re NOT going to buy the book that’s gotten lousy reviews and is overpriced to boot. But from there, the waters get a lot more murky. Maybe I’m not going to buy that book that got fantastic reviews but is on a subject that I can’t imagine kids truly being nearly as interested in as the adult reviewers (Kurlansky’s book about cod, say) and I think that’s still clearly selection, though of course it is nudging a little closer to censorship because it’s based on my opinion of what would interest kids. But let’s say maybe it’s a book with okay reviews on Britney Spears, and I feel that Britney, with her public meltdowns and her public appearances sans underwear, has become a poor role model for today’s kids, so I decide not to buy that book. That, my librarian friends, is really close to censorship. That’s not comfortable, though, so I might tell myself instead, “Oh, let’s wait and see how Britney does after rehab and THEN buy something–this book will be out of date so quickly”.
I think one of the best things about the whole Lucky debate has been the opportunity for each of us to take a good look in the mirror. Are you a censor? Sometimes, maybe, just a little?