Annoyed Librarian Takes ALA to the Woodshed
Annoyed Librarian Takes ALA to the Woodshed
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   10.08.08

Reading Time: 7 minutes

On Oct. 3, 2008, the Washington Post covered the story of some high school students in Virginia who attempted to expose the “book banning” activities engaged in by their high school librarians who censor virtually all resources that express conservative perspectives on homosexuality. The librarians offered the usual embarrassing defenses for their censorship of ideas, trying futilely to mask their utter hypocrisy regarding censorship.

Perhaps the weakest and most embarrassing justification proffered was that conservative books would make “gay students ‘feel inferior’ ” which is another way of saying that ideas are controversial. I hate to break it to library ideologues, but subjective “feelings” do not take precedence over ideas in the academic world. And before library ideologues sputter some specious comparison between conservative ideas on homosexual conduct and racism, let’s be clear that homosexuality is not equivalent to race, and expressions of disapproval of homosexual practice are not equivalent to racism.

I imagine that students who use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco “feel inferior” when they are exposed to resources critical of drug, alcohol, or tobacco use. And I imagine that promiscuous and aggressive students “feel inferior” when exposed to resources critical of promiscuity and aggression. And I imagine that students whose conservative faith traditions are central to their identities, including Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants, “feel inferior” when they see 50-150 resources on their library shelves that implicitly and explicitly criticize their deeply held religious beliefs on homosexuality. Librarians apparently have little concern about the feelings of those students.

Fortunately, there are a few librarians left in this country who have the integrity to reject demands to conform to the propagandist impulses of the ALA.

Here’s just such a one. She’s a blogger who goes by the name “Annoyed Librarian,” and the Library Journal has just started carrying her blog. In this recent post, she takes the ALA to the woodshed in a biting and sarcastic piece that exposes all or most of the chuckleheaded justifications that the ALA uses to defend their censorship of conservative ideas.

For clarification, here are some explanatory notes on terms used in the article below:

AL= Annoyed Librarian
ALA = American Library Association
LJ = Library Journal

Enjoy this piece, and then please send it to your community and public school library staffs.

 Some “Censorship” is Good

Now down to business. Somehow I missed this story in the Washington Post a few days ago, but that’s what I have readers for, to send me stuff like this. “Banned Books, Chapter 2” is quite a fun read.

“During a week that librarians nationwide are highlighting banned books, conservative Christian students and parents showcased their own collection outside a Fairfax County high school yesterday — a collection they say was banned by the librarians themselves…. Titles include Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting and Someone I Love Is Gay, which argues that homosexuality is not ‘a hopeless condition.'” We sure wouldn’t want those kinds of books in a high school library! We want people to think homosexuality is a hopeless condition!

But banned by the librarians themselves? They obviously don’t understand what a “banned” book is. Just for the “conservative Christian students and parents,” I’ll explain this whole process. First, the library has to buy the book. Then, some “conservative Christian” student or parent has to complain about the book. Thus, the book is “challenged.” Though the books are never removed from the library, after 24 hours the “challenge” is automatically upgraded to “banned,” because it sounds more provocative. That explains those announcements you’re always hearing over the library loudspeakers: “In accordance with ALA regulations, the status of Frisky Gay Squirrels has now been upgraded to ‘banned.’ Any copies of Frisky Gay Squirrels left unattended will be randomly checked out to anyone who happens to be in the library.” Librarians love this, because then they get to fight “censorship.”

But what if the library never acquires the book in the first place? Then ipso facto it can’t be “banned.” That’s the first thing you need to get through your conservative Christian heads. The question, then, is why wasn’t the book acquired, or added to the collection if it was a gift? The conservative Christians think it was for political reasons, to deliberately make sure their side in a debate wasn’t being represented in the library collection. Those conservative Christians can be sooo cynical sometimes. It had nothing to do with politics. If the selection decision had anything to do with politics, why then the ALA would say these librarians were “censors.” The ALA hasn’t called these librarians censors. Thus the books weren’t rejected for political reasons. QED. Besides, we can’t have the ALA coming out and accusing librarians for censorship just for keeping those mean old conservative books off the shelves. That’s not censorship. That’s just good sense!

Since it’s obvious that politics had nothing to do with the decision not to add the books to the collection, what could have been the reason?

“Most of the books were turned down after school librarians said they did not meet school system standards.” Ooh, that’s a good one! It has such an official tone to it. “School system standards” sounds so impressive. I bet that school system has high standards indeed!

But that’s not all. “Fairfax County’s policy on library book selection says ‘the collection should support the diverse interests, needs and viewpoints of the school community.'” Hmm? That sure sounds like they should add at least some of the books. I’d be willing to bet there’s at lease one homophobe in that high school, and don’t we want homophobes to read books, too? I guess not, because apparently there are factors more important than supporting “diverse” interests, like not supporting the interests you don’t like.

“Library officials said donated and purchased books alike are evaluated by the same standards, including two positive reviews from professionally recognized journals.” This is another great one. I seriously doubt that every book purchased or donated really does need “two positive reviews from professionally recognized journals” to be added to the collection. But just for argument’s sake let’s take this statement as truth. Notice the wording of it. It needs two reviews in professionally recognized journals. The sweet logic of this is very impressive. “Hey,” say the conservative Christians, “we found fifteen journals that reviewed Marriage on Trial!” “I’m sorry,” say the librarians, “we don’t professionally recognize those journals.” It could be the case — and I’m only making the suggestion — that these librarians only “professionally recognize” the sorts of journals that review the sorts of books they already agree with. It’s possible, right? Hardly likely, knowing how earnest librarians really are about representing “diverse” viewpoints, including the viewpoints of those mean old conservative Christians, but still possible.

“None of the donated titles met that standard, said Susan Thornily, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax schools.” I know this comes as a huge surprise to all of you. “Some librarians also said that the nonfiction books were heavy on scripture but light on research, or that the books would make gay students ‘feel inferior,’ she said.” That was the line that stunned me. Those school librarians were moving along so well, putting up cleverly circular arguments that sounded almost librarian-like. And maybe I can see rejecting a book as “light on research,” because I’m sure every anti-conservative nonfiction book in that library is heavily researched and that none of them just state the politically correct opinions of the authors without much argument. That high school must have a rigorous research collection, indeed. But how are we supposed to take seriously the caveat that the books would make gay students “feel inferior”? How is that not a politicized reason not to accept the book? First of all, is it likely these gay students will read the books? Is it just having them on the shelves? Does that make them “feel inferior”? Or is it just knowing that some people out there disapprove of homosexuality? How could any gay students not already know this?

And how is that any different than African American students feeling inferior by having Huckleberry Finn on the shelves? Or conservative Christians feeling “inferior” because every book on homosexuality in their library says exactly the same thing, that every opinion they have is wrong and they are bad people for being so intolerant? Whatever happened to that old librarian standby that just because a book offends a portion of the population doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in the collection? They sure like to trot that warhorse out when “conservative Christians” complain about Heather Has Two Very Excited Daddies.

“Thornily said school librarians have rejected other books that ‘target minority groups’ and would offend African Americans or other nonwhite students.” Is a book arguing homosexuality is wrong “targeting a minority group”? Targeting? Are these books advocating violence against homosexuals? That seems unlikely. Why isn’t the Office of Intellectual “Freedom” barking loudly in the direction of Fairfax County and explaining to these librarians that just because some group is “offended” by a book, this is no reason not to have it. In fact, this is a reason to have it, in order to show how much we value “intellectual freedom” and “diversity.” Conservative Christians are a minority group, and no one cares about offending them. “In this case, librarians were concerned about the level of scholarship in the books, many of which come from small church publishers.” Uh huh. I’m sure that’s all it was.

If the politics were reversed, no matter the level of “scholarship,” you know the ALA would be swooping down on these poor librarians screaming “Censor!” at them. This example just goes to show the tortured logic some librarians can apply when they don’t like the viewpoint of the book. What the conservative Christians need to understand is that librarians can always find a legitimate sounding reason not to add a book to the collection. Personally, that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t see why a librarian can’t just say, “this looks like a really stupid book and I find it offensive. Out to the recycling bin with it!” What’s the big deal really? So what if homophobes don’t have any books affirming their views? The library isn’t there to support diverse views. It’s there to put forward the views librarians approve of. That’s why people become librarians in the first place, because they love that power. After all, these books are still available and Focus on the Family would probably be happy to send you a copy. Only the ALA and their minions call it “censorship.”

In fact, what’s refreshing here is that there was a slip in the bureaucratic explanation. They had that beautiful, circular “professionally recognized journal” argument. Then they had to come out and say they reject books they think might offend some people, especially the librarians. We knew it all along. I’m just glad someone finally admitted it. Come to think of it, since they haven’t turned on these librarians, maybe the ALA OIF has finally admitted it as well. A brave new world indeed.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years...
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