When I first started working at my local public library I was surprised to learn that there are library patrons who actually correct — in ink — the spelling and grammatical errors they find in library books. At first, I thought this was a good thing. The way I saw it, these unsung heroes, by maintaining standards of literacy in an age of creeping Twitter-speak, were performing a valuable public service.
I began to re-think this when it came to my attention that we also have patrons who have taken it upon themselves to edit out with a felt-tipped pen any cursing, profanity or sexually explicit behavior they encounter in our books.
I am now, like most librarians, an absolutist when it comes to defacing library property. You can do whatever you like to your personal copy of a book. You can annotate it, highlight it, cross out the parts you don’t like or cut it up for art.
But leave library books alone.
And yet, there are librarians who deface library books themselves! A recent post on my favorite library-related Facebook page described an elementary school librarian who drew boxer briefs on the naked little boy in Maurice Sendak’s The Night Kitchen; because her school serves a conservative neighborhood, she was worried that parents might be upset if a child brought the book home.
Their responses to this post made it clear that my fellow librarians were not down with this:
That’s censorship, plain and simple. And it’s wrong.
People have been doing this since this book came out in 1970. I really thought we had gotten past this by now.
If Maurice Sendak had wanted boxers on the kid, he would have drawn them on himself. Nobody has any business bowdlerizing someone else’s work.
She’s defacing a work of art. If it’s not okay to paint clothing on a nude at a museum, why is it okay to do this?
As a parent, I would be extremely disappointed to get a book that had been defaced like this.
This is not only unacceptable and ridiculous, it‘s a gross ethical violation. Somebody please stop her.