Wednesday 13 April 2011

libraries gave us power....

There's an interesting article in the Guardian today reporting on the American Library Association's list of the books that people tried to ban most often last year. As always, it's an excellent opportunity to sneer at the stupidity of Americans, condemning books that they probably haven't read for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. The top book for 2010 is a case in point: "And Tango Makes Three", a picture book telling the true story of a chick adopted by two male Emperor penguins at New York's Central Park zoo. Reasons given for trying to ban it? homosexuality, religious viewpoint and unsuited to age group. Ridiculous, right? The list also includes "Brave New World" (Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit) and "Twilight" (Religious viewpoint, violence).

This year's list is mostly made up of more modern books (read the full list here), but last year's list included classics like JD Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye", Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird", and don't even mention "The Origin of the Species"..... Insert your own snarky remark about idiot Americans here (and the comments below the article are, of course, full of exactly that: remarks about how these people should be complaining about the Old Testament, how the only complaint you should be making about "Twilight" is how badly written it is etc. etc.)

One word of caution though: almost as an aside, the article mentions that the ALA made the list up based on 348 reports of efforts to remove books from America's shelves in 2010, down from 460 the previous year.

Um. 348 reports? In a country with a population of more than 300 million people, we are making judgements on a whole nation based on a sample of less than 400? How narrow-minded does that make us? (also, how do you even get a top ten list out of a sample that small? Way to create worldwide publicity for libraries... go the ALA!)

On a similar subject, you might have heard about the US publishing company that was re-issuing Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" (first published in 1884) with the 200 uses of the word "nigger" replaced with the word "slave" to make it more "acceptable", also removing the word "injun" whilst they were at it. Before we all start frothing at the mouth about that, it's worth noting that the Guardian also published an article today reporting that - contrary to what we might have assumed - a Harris poll of 2,379 American adults taken in March found that 77% were opposed to the change, with 59% strongly opposing it. Conservatives, moderates and liberals were all equally likely to disagree with the change, according to the survey, while 80% of white adults were against it, as opposed to 71% of Hispanic adults and 63% of black people polled.

That's another lazy assumption about Americans squashed then.

Well, although the poll also showed that 56% think that no book should be banned completely, to be fair, 34% did say that children should not be able to get books with vampires in from school libraries (not even Dracula?), while 41% also believe books that include witchcraft or sorcery should not be available in school libraries.) I wonder what a similar survey taken in the UK would say. Particularly if run by the Daily Mail.

Incidentally, when was the last time you were in a library? I popped into one last May, I think, and I didn't borrow a book (although C. did). I'm horrified at the thought that the current Government is threatening to shut them down, of course, but I have to say that I don't really use them myself any more.


  1. Last time I was in a library: Saturday.

    Should books only be limited to those who can afford to buy them? Should access to the internet be limited to those who have it at home?

    I think you may have been infected by standing near Cameron: "Why do we need public libraries? Doesn't everyone have one at home?"

  2. Oh behave. At what point did I imply above that I didn't see the value of public libraries? You clown.

  3. You know, this is fascinating to me because I recently did a blog post about banned boos in my state and it was inspired by a blog post by an author I know. Apparently it is a very hot topic.

    I completely agree that there is a lot of ingnorance in banning and contesting books. A lot f the books banned and contested in the US are because of their opposition to the mores of the religious right. Something I might point out though is that while there may have been only 348 reports, those reports were likely supported by several people at one time. An entire schoolboard or a religious community or some such. Still, not a representative sample, I agree.

    I don't frequent the library as often as I should, only because I do have access to so many books at home. however, I understand that most people do not have personal librries at home, and when it comes to doing research (my primary use for libraries) it is an unfortunate fact that most people in the US use the internet now. In fact, the highest volume area in our local libraries is the computer terminals for that reason.

    I'm rambling, I apologize. I will say this, though, as one of your pet ignorant Americans. I disagree with banning books, but when there is a bookof mature topic, who is minding what your people read, and who is there to discuss the issues with them after? I think that is the crux of the book banning issue.