A Librarian Thinks About Censorship


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.

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  • eileen mcvey February 4, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    You are my hero.

    • eileen mcvey February 4, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Or should I say heroine?

  • Vee October 22, 2016 at 4:20 am

    I think as librarians we have a choice about what we hold in our collections. That is enough power, without imposing our choice on individual items within the collection as well.

  • Joel Hecker September 18, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    I’m an academic scholar who frequently checks author’s textual references when they relate to a project that I’m working on. When I find an error, by which I mean where the author misrouted the reference s/he had intended, off by a folio side or the like, I believe that it is my reapinsilitty as a scholar to correct the mistake made by the author and not picked up on by the press’s outside readers. I wouldn’t correct an argument, of course, nor even a typo (smart readers will decipher them on their own, but a misstatement of page reference? I know that I would thank reader of my books for helping my readers in the same way

  • Kelly September 17, 2016 at 6:52 pm


  • kate September 16, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Yikes! It’s scary to find out that Censor-Librarians are still roaming free in North America, along with unrestrained, uncensored Citizen-Censors. We need more rehab and mental health services in this country, including for people who draw clothes on pictures in children’s books. A public service message: if you ‘correct’ a library book to suit your personal values, get a life … and a psychiatrist. Great piece about a really important subject.

  • Mickey September 15, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    I think I can comment on WVFC; we’ll see. As always, love your writing! Yes! Censorship! I am easily put off by some explicit writing in some books, by some pictures that, for various reasons, offend or bother me, like Picasso’s displaying his wife’s breast, not my favorite artist anyway because of his, never mind, I digress. I love your writing, Roz. Keep on keeping on and writing about all the subjects that give us pause, what’s my opinion? What do I think about that? Provoke us, stimulate us to thinking and being. Thank you so very much. Hugs.

  • hillsmom September 15, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Were you making this up? Ok, I guess not, but this kind of censorship still goes on…gobsmacked. Thanks for the laughs anyway. 😎