A Librarian Thinks About Censorship

And yet, other comments made it clear that librarians defacing library property is nothing new:

I once worked with a school library technician who took it upon herself to draw shirts on all the bare-chested people in National Geographic.

I’m a cataloger for a large school district and one of our high school librarians does this kind of thing all the time. We all just roll our eyes.

I’m a school librarian. My predecessor had a cache of “banned books” hidden away in a locked cabinet, including a book that contained a photo of a woman breast-feeding. When I took over, I re-shelved them all.

When I was in elementary school there was a book about Adam and Eve in our school library. The librarian had fashioned little “bathing suits” for them out of stickers. Kids were always trying to peel off the stickers to see what was underneath.

We considered the question of whether librarians are there to enforce community standards:

In her defense, the FCC demands that certain words be “bleeped” before a show can air. So you could argue that there’s a legal precedent for community standards being applied.

But she defaced the book before anyone complained! It wasn’t done in response to community concern.

Censorship is a slippery slope. What else offends (or scares) this librarian? And who put her in charge of community morals?

They do this kind of thing to foreign newspapers in Saudi Arabia. Not a good model to imitate.

The clear consensus was that good librarians don’t deface or censor books:

If somebody did this in my library, I’d buy a new copy and discard the damaged one.

I’m a school librarian at a Catholic school. We have The Night Kitchen, uncensored, in our collection. We also have science books about the human body, that have scientific drawings (at a kid’s level) of labia, penises, etc.

Kids need to learn about sexual anatomy. It’s “private,” yes, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve had parents complain about this book. It’s still on our shelves. Don’t like it? Don’t read it.

My favorite response? The librarian who cited Kurt Cobain:

When asked to alter the cover art of Nirvana’s Nevermind, which showed a naked three-year old (with penis clearly visible) swimming toward a dollar bill, lead singer Cobain agreed to only one compromise: a strategically placed sticker that would read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” The original album art went out untouched.

Still, as happy as I am to replace the stereotype of the fussy cardigan-wearing librarian with that of an edgy, Cobain-quoting librarian, the final word has to go to librarian Cynthia Robbins:

I read this book over and over again to my daughter without any bad result. It was her favorite. Adults pass on their own bad feelings when they censor like this. Censorship is fear. As librarians, we are supposed to be fearless.

I agree. Although I am, by nature, quiet and mild-mannered, I want to be fearless when it comes to standing up for the books in our collection. Let’s face it —  if you can’t deal with defending Maurice Sendak’s right to draw a little boy without his clothes on, you’re probably in the wrong profession.

And if you’re a parent who doesn’t want her kid to see a fictional 5-year-old’s penis? You can buy yourself a copy and deface it to your heart’s content.

Of course, when your kid checks the book out of the school library, he’s in for a surprise.


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • 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. 😎