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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning


"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Censorship or common sense?

At the Guilderland library, a plan to put warnings on sexually explicit books in the "teen" section has been defeated.
Town library trustees soundly rejected a controversial proposal Thursday night that would have flagged sexually explicit books in the library's teen section, ending several weeks of ethical discomfort for some library workers over the implications of labeling books.

About 100 residents packed the usually routine library board meeting for more than three hours of heated debate that centered on whether protecting children is more important than unfettered intellectual freedom.
I don't know how I feel about this. The main reason the proposal was rejected seems sound - it would have created a crush of work for the librarians:
[the[ proposed amendment to the library's collection development policy would have required staff to screen each of the roughly 1,600 teen books that come into the youth services stacks every year.
However, I don't think i can endorse the intellectual reasoning that some librarians and teens were giving at the meeting:
"With books, you can close the book," said 14-year-old Guilderland High School freshman Lily Rowen. "Just because we're teens, it doesn't mean we're not Americans, and Americans have rights."

The most strident opposition to the policy came on ethical and philosophical grounds from people like the library's director, Barbara Nichols Randall, who insisted the policy would violate librarians' code of conduct by forcing them to make value judgments on material they present.
Both of these arguments seem silly. Setting aside the issue of the "rights" of minors, no one is going to deny that part of the job of parenting is making decisions for your children that are in their best interest, regardless of what they want. That is the essence of guardianship. No one is suggesting we restrict which books the teens read, only that we give parents an easy system to identify books that they may not want their children reading.

This argument goes double for the librarian. I understand the generally animosity librarians have toward censorship, but this seems more like informative disclosure than censorship. And how firm is this opposition to "forced value judgements" - do they really mean no value judgements? Don't the libraries sort their movies by rating? Don't the libraries carry CD's with "explicit lyrics" warning stickers on them? Wouldn't this just be a rating system similar to those? I don't think anyone is talking about pulling books off the shelves or restricting access to them - the whole point would be to put a color-coded sticker on the books so that parents would know what their children were reading.

Honestly, isn't the very idea of having a "teen" section a value judgement? Who decides what books go in there? I assume that they wouldn't put sexually explicit books in the children's room, right? So in some way, they are already screening out books that are inappropriate by age. And all that is being proposed here is not a screening out of books, but a labeling of them!

I tend to agree with this observer, who was at the meeting:
"I think it is a little disingenuous to suggest there are no value judgments being made," said board member Brian Hartson. "We make them every day in a variety of forms."
Indeed. Now, maybe all this high-style rhetoric was just cover for librarians who don't want extra work. Fine. But it sure seems silly to me to pretend that giving parents information about the books in the children's section is censorship.

In other library news, the long-contested new library in Clifton park broke ground yesterday.
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