Conservatives Turn the Page on 'Banned Books Week'

While taxpayer-funded librarians organize their self-congratulatory "Banned Books Week," all about their raging love for the First Amendment and the right to speak out, Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post was kind enough to notice on Friday that social conservatives have figured out that it's fun to shift the charge of "censorship" to the librarians that reject thousands of titles each year, perhaps with a little political and cultural bias in the process:

More than 40 students, many wearing black T-shirts stamped with the words "Closing Books Shuts Out Ideas," said they tried to donate more than 100 books about homosexuality to more than a dozen high school libraries in the past year. The initiative, organized by Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, was intended to add a conservative Christian perspective to shelves that the students said are stocked with "pro-gay" books. Most of the books were turned down after school librarians said they did not meet school system standards.

The story was featured on the front page of the Metro section on Friday, complete with a large picture of teenage girls wearing their anti-censorship T-shirts against the librarians. Chandler explained how the librarians choose to exclude the conservative books. Political correctness is certainly a strong ingredient in the censoring mix: 

But library officials said donated and purchased books alike are evaluated by the same standards, including two positive reviews from professionally recognized journals. None of the donated titles met that standard, said Susan Thornily, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax schools. 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. Thornily said school librarians have rejected other books that "target minority groups" and would offend African Americans or other nonwhite students. In this case, librarians were concerned about the level of scholarship in the books, many of which come from small church publishers.

Chandler does not explore the idea that the country's largest publishers might fail to publish books on this theme, since they may have the same "don't target minority group" standards. If the library shelves feature only one point of view because the other side doesn't match the liberal "level of scholarship" or publishing prestige, doesn't that still suggest the librarian in charge is not really interested in allowing all points of view? There's a bright side at the end of this story:

Thornily said she has offered to help find books that meet the county standards and offer a religious view on homosexuality along with other views. She has asked librarians to consider adding such books to their collections.

If librarians are really interested in a bold free market of ideas, they ought to more than "consider"  such books. They should be seeking them out -- unless they want to change the meaning of "Banned Books Week" and pin the "ban" charge on the librarians.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis