Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Censorship and Intellectual Freedom

The encyclopedia article on censorship is especially interesting, becuase it focuses on who exactly attempts to censor reading materials and ideas. Librarians, popes, political leaders, and feminists are just a few of the groups that have attempted censorship of particular materials. All are offended by certain elements and have different means for promoting the censorship of specific materials. The intellectual freedom article addresses the more political aspects of censorship practiced by governments. China, the Soviet Union, and South Africa (and certainly the United States, too) have all practiced censorship and have used to different means to discourage certain ideas and teachings. Governments can simply ban certain materials, or libraries can restrict access to certain areas, or , as in the cases of the United States and South Africa, can practice partial censorship through racial profiling in an attempt to prevent subervise, independent behavior. I think the word censorship certainly has negative connotation, but putting that aside do you think there is value in censorship? Does it prevent the fermentation of certain dangerous ideas? Or does it simply make people more curious about certain materials?

11 comments:

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

I practice a certain amount of censorship when it comes to my my kids and what they see and read and say. I feel that as a parent I have a level of responsibility to my 2 kids to not allow them to see or read stuff that I feel is nasty or scary or inappropriate for them. On the other hand, I do not want my library censoring what they put on their shelves. I want freedom of access, and I want the ability to help my kids choose what is right or wrong for their needs. It is up to me as a parent to make decisions for my kids at this point in their lives, but I don't want the pope to tell me what I as an adult can read or not read.

Brendan said...

Censorship is definitely something parents practice every day with their kids, I think. And it's obviously appropriate. Parents are responsible for their children's well-being, and knowing what they are reading, watching on TV, listening to, etc, is a big part of that. It's when censorship occurs in the more public sphere of a library, for example, that people become all up-in-arms about it. Everyone grows up with a certain amount of bias and their own beliefs and values. That's what leads to this notion of self-censorship, I think, for most of these librarians mentioned in the articles. No matter how hard we try, every decision will still have a small amount of personal reflection involved.

kristen said...

In Censorship and the American Library Louise Robbins cites two studies that reveal some interesting facts about self censoring librarians. One study conducted in 1972 concentrated on Midwest libraries. It found that librarians with ‘authoritative’ (term was not defines in book) personalities had a greater tendency to self-censor. Would that be true because a person like this would “know what’s best for the community using the library?” Another study found that “use of standard reviewing tools has narrowed the perspective and selections of librarians.” How exactly are these tools used? Do they have bias built-in some how? Could these review tools (I’m not familiar with them) be considered a way to indirectly or passively self censor?
I really like Quinn’s comment about children and intellectual freedom. Robbins mentioned that the ALA at one point considered drafting an intellectual freedom document for youth. It surprised my that the role and authority of parents was not mentioned in this short section of the book.
P.S. I haven’t done the reading yet. So…sorry if this stuff has been discussed.

Kelly said...

By "reviewing tools" she probably just means the various journals that carry book reviews. Some of these are written especially by and for librarians, while others are put together by the book publishing industry or other organizations. There can be varying degrees of bias involved, depending on the journal's policies and who they get to write for them.

The problem with even the fairest and most unbiased of book review journals is that no journal could review EVERYTHING. Only a fraction of all new books will ever be reviewed at all. So if librarians decide only to buy books that get good reviews in particular journals, there are plenty of books that will never have a chance.

Katie Hanson said...

I agree with Brenden that there's always a little personal reflection in every selection decision a librarian makes. As long as libraries have limited budgets and limited space, there probably always will be. I wonder how much budget restraints play in the role of censorship. Certainly, a librarian will try to get the most for the money, but when it comes down to really tight circumstances, will a librarian be likely to purchase materials that could upset patrons (and taxpayers)? Probably not likely. Rather than simply leaving the chance for self-censorship to librarian, could it be said that communities have very tight library budgets are aiding in the censorship of materials from their own libraries?

Deanna Olson said...

The article on censorship describes the long history of censorship in our society. From the A.D 405 until today, censorship has been present in one form or another. I think that there are different reasons for censorship to occur such as for protection as in the instance of children, out of fear, or being offended. It is intersting to consider, as Katie mentioned, the role that a library's budget plays in censorship. Will a library collect items that a community is not interested in? Is this the same as censorship. More tough questions, with no answers. Either way, I predict that censorship will continue to be an issue in the future.

Lia said...

Everyone has had such great comments here and I agree with them for the most part. I did want to address two things: what Quinn talked about when censoring for his children. The ALA's Library Bill of Rights actually states that libraries have no place in censoring for children as that is the sole right of parents; on the flipside, it also states that parents have the right to censor only their own children, they do not have the right to censor what other children who are not theirs can read and have access to. I bring this up because this is one of the only times the ALA or the library profession at large condones any kind of censorship.

I really don't think censorship, in any area of our lives, will go away. Whether it is as something as big as access to information in education or within libraries or whether it is something as simple as choosing not read something you don't think you would like it, censorship in all its various forms will be there. That's why having selection policies in place makes sense for libraries, having some guidelines and standards for collection development for all librarians in a library to follow. It doesn't mean they always will (ie, self-censorship), but it does mean that if someone finds questionable material, then the library can hold it up to the standards in place by their policies.

potter said...

To continue with something that Katie brought up, I think that who the community where the library is plays a major role in what type and how much censorship there is present in a library, for example (nothing against the church) a conservative community with a strong church presence is probably more likely to have a library that censors materials about homosexuallity. Or converesly a very liberal community such as Madison in probably more likely to encourage censorship of materials that may be offensive to ethnic/political/religions minorites.

And now a brief jump onto my censorship soapbox. I have notices that there is almost always more of an uproar about people censoring liberal or radical-left material than conservative or radical-right material, and while I personally disagree with and/or find offesive much of the latter mentioned material, if the freedom of information argument is used agaisnt censorship that then meands that neither side can be censored. It is somewhat hypocritcal even if well-intentioned.

Kacie said...

I just had a comment/question about something Lia said about library selection policies. She brought up the point that you can use them to justify having certain material in the library, but doesn't merely having a selection policy in place act as a form of censorship in itself? I guess I'm not familiar with how they work or what type of guidelines they typically follow, but it seems to me if you have set guidelines for library material, that is going to lead to censorship.

Lia said...

Having selection policies actually can help deter censorship from taking place. I see this all the time at one of my jobs. A selection policy is supposed to adhere to the library's mission statement to some capacity, such as a library must have multicultural books for cultural representation. Having a selection policy and a reconsideration policy in place can prevent administrators, librarians, teachers (if in a school), library board members, and community members from simply removing materials -- such as a principal taking a book from the school library shelf and throwing it away -- because there is usually a procedure that then has to take place, with the biggest question being, 'does this material fit with the library's stated mission?' A group of people then decide if that material fits or not.
Like I said before, self-censorship takes place all the time and people in power remove materials, both of these things despite having policies in place. Censorship can happen anywhere, anytime. Unless a selection policy states that the library will not allow certain materials, which usually is only the case with obscenity and pornography as the Supreme Court ruled was not protected under the 1st Amendment, selection and reconsideration policies usually act as a deterrent to blatant censorship.

Katie K said...

Lia, I'm really glad you brought up the point of selection policy and censorship. I took an college and academic libraries class last semester and we each had task force projects. My group was in charge of creating a collection development policy (aka a selection policy). And in all of the literature I read on the subject, it was always emphasized that a good collection development policy should contain information about the library's policy against censorship (usually in the form of an ALA document). It was also noted that a collection development policy creates a written document which will aid in defending a challenged material because it gives the material more clout (instead of a vague idea of c.d.) I found all of this interesting because when one thinks of censorship, it's usually in terms of a public or school library and not in an academic setting, where the "free flow of ideas" is encouraged.