Cassy Pallo is a teen programming specialist for Mid-Continent Public Libraries.
Last summer, for the week of the Fourth of July, I did a column about censorship and “Fahrenheit 451.” I’d like to revisit the topic of censorship today.
What prompted this is a recent article in School Library Journal about self-censorship as it relates to public and school libraries. For anyone who’s curious, it’s by Debra Lau Whelan and it’s available at http:// www.schoollibraryjournal.com. Look under “articles,” then “censorship.”
The title of the piece is “A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship.” It’s a long article and well worth reading, and I don’t want to paraphrase too much. But one of the things it addresses is the silent censorship that occurs when libraries choose not to add controversial books to their collections due to content concerns.
I’m not going to talk about this issue in the context of my employer, because all I really know about our book selection process is that I’m not in charge of it. What I am in charge of is what I write about here, and I have to be honest: I self-censor. I self-censor all the time.
Part of this has to do with the fact that this column appears in a local paper, and there are frankly a lot of things that people aren’t interested in reading about in a newspaper. If you’re looking for steamy romance or blood-soaked horror, you’re watching a movie or reading a novel. Things that are excluded due to context don’t worry me, and I’ve never come into conflict with my editors over what’s OK to write about here. What worries me is that my opinions about books and who should be allowed to read them will cause me some real-world problems.
I worry that if I’m too “out there,” people will stop reading my stuff. I worry that if I ever look at a new career locally, someone will remember that I read a book by Christopher Hitchens and opt for a more Christian candidate. I worry that a parent will keep a kid from attending a library event because I mention the fact that “And Tango Makes Three” is one of my favorite children’s books. I worry that an adult patron won’t visit the library as often because I recommend a book with naughty words in it.
I realize my audience isn’t huge and that the role I play in people’s choices about books is tiny, even when considered on a local scale. But it’s important to me to promote literacy in every way possible. I want people to read books that make them feel brand new again, books that make them laugh, books that make them hurt like it’s real, books that change them. If even one person reads less because of what I write, I will hate myself for it. And while I don’t care what people think of me, I don’t want to be silenced. So, with unfortunate frequency, I don’t speak up to start with. Expect this to change.