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This one time, at Banned camp . . . (An adventure of Super Librarian for Banned Books Week)

Book banning doesn’t happen as often as you think it does.  Mostly what we face are book challenges.  This is the notion that someone challenges the acceptedness (acceptedability?) um, the appropriateness of a book.  It often happens by outside forces, like parents and concerned citizens, but, as we discussed yesterday, it can also happen from internal sources including your very co-workers.  Today, I am going to share with you my Censorship Confessions.  These confessions will be known as the “True Confessions of a Former Book Banner” from this day forward.  Please note, I am a reformed book banner and I wave my olive branch to librarians everywhere.

Censorship Confession #1: Doing It for the First Time

Once, in my very early days as a paraprofessional, I myself censored some books.  And yes, I hang my head in shame.  You see, I had ordered books 1 and 2 of a new seres called something like doing it for the first time or the first time.  Whatever the name of the series, it was very clearly about teenagers having their first sexual experience.  At that time I had to process all my own paperbacks, which these books were.  So they came in and I read them and my eyes popped out of my head with an “oooga” sound going of somewhere in the background.  I panicked.  I broke out into a cold sweat.  And then I put the books into a cupboard in my office with the promise that I would get to them “later”.  Later turned out to be a couple of years later when we were cleaning out the cupboards and by that time, they were old and irrelevant and put in the Friends booksale.  Look, I’m not proud of  that moment.  I wouldn’t do it now.  But I feel the need to make my conscience clean here during Banned Books Week.

Censorship Confession #2: How Many Legs Does a Spider Have?

A couple of times, I was that person doing the internal challenge to my co-workers in the children’s department.  You see there was this children’s book about a spider that I checked out and read to my daughter.  But people, on every single page THIS SPIDER HAD 7 LEGS.  It drove me insane.  What were we teaching the children?  I wanted it discarded for being an inaccurate representation, but the children’s department didn’t agree.  To this day, if I found a book like that in my collection I’m not gonna lie, I would totally discard it for being factually inaccurate and confusing.

Censorship Confession #3: How Many Monkeys Jumping on the Bed?

I also once challenged – challenged is such a strong word here – a version of 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed because the way it was illustrated as a one page spread instead of a two page spread meant that when viewing the pages in an open book you would count 9 monkeys total instead of the 4 that the verse was talking about.  Again, I thought this was confusing to kids learning how to read and count.  It was just a bad design and lay out.

Censorship Confession #4: How Often Should You Feed a Baby?

Okay, so there are these parenting books called Babywise which suggest that you shouldn’t feed a baby on demand, but get them on your schedule.  The thing is, a baby died from malnutrition and dehydration and there is a lot of controversy about these books (read a little about it here).  I honestly campaigned hard core to have these books removed from my library, and in this instance I don’t regret it honestly.  But here’s the deal, it’s not our place – it’s not mine – to tell a parent how to raise their child, no matter how much I may disagree with the choices they make.  And it’s a testament to my growth as a librarian that I didn’t just take the books off the shelf and burn them in the back alley.  For the record, these books totally offend my sensibilities.  But as Jo Goodwin says, “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” – even the librarian!

The Rise of Super Librarian, Dedicated to the Fight Against Censorship

But my very favorite Banned Books Week story is about the time that someone tried to censor me.  That’s right people, I myself was almost a victim of censorship. I get to join the ranks of amazing people like Harper Lee, Chris Crutcher and Shel Silverstein.  Read on.

Each year for Banned Books Week I would put up a bold, eye-catching display.  We had a great (functional and large) slat wall display area right across from the Circulation Desk.  I did my research.  I pulled book after book off the shelf, wrapped them in brown paper bags and wrote the reasons they had been challenged or banned on them.  There was yellow caution tape and jail signs and . . . It truly was epic.  I would show you a picture but during that time our phones still plugged into the wall and they didn’t have cameras.

It was an eye-catching behemoth that I was fiercely proud of.  Unfortunately, one of our library patrons did not agree.  In fact, she found the fact that I was speaking out against censorship to be incredibly offensive and wanted it taken down.  That’s real irony right there, not Alanis Morrisette irony.

First she came and talked to me and I tried to explain to her the values of Intellectual Freedom and the reasons we should all stand against censorship.  Then she went to my boss.  Then she went to the library director.  And then she went to the board.  That’s right people, the very first time in my professional career that I had to talk to my library board involved me fighting for my job and the library’s right to stand against censorship.  I was young and naive, just naive enough to think that I was untouchable and that justice and common sense were the ways in which the world worked.  Obviously, and thankfully, this time that naivete paid off and everyone up the line supported Intellectual Freedom and stood up for the display, which remained until WE decided to take it down and put up a new one.

And that, my friends, is how I put on my Super Librarian cape and stood up for Truth, Justice and the American Way.  That is also the story of how I ended up in the end of the year report to the board.  That is also when I realized that there really were people who didn’t understand the need for Intellectual Freedom, which is why I still wear my cape.

Pop Quiz:

In Censorship Challenges #2 and #3, would those have been valid reasons to remove a book from the collection?

Have you ever had a book display or library publication challenged?

Does your library have a process in place for have unconventional challenges?  Most libraries have book collection challenge materials in place, but what happens when it is not a book being challenged?

And finally, you all forgive me for Censorship Confession #1, right?


  1. I put up my Banned Books display (similar to yours) in the library, not remembering that that evening was the parent meeting in the library. The next day, I wondered if anything was said to my principal. But, he said they asked some question but were supportive. I was ready to fight for my position, if necessary, but I've been doing this for many years. Great stories. I love the one about the spider book — that would drive me crazy too!

  2. I have to say I am guilty of #1. Mostly because I am a middle school librarian and previously an elementary one. I did buy on pretty inappropriate book for a middle school library–but passed it up to the high school library and they put it in their collection. I still am not sure I did the right thing because we have such a mix of reading levels and maturity abilities here! But I have to laugh at reasons 2 & 3. I probably wouldn't ask them to be removed, but I might just stop reading them to my children.

  3. As a former science teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with pulling a book, even a children's book, for scientific inaccuracy. I have even emailed my children's teachers when something they sent home with my kids had scientifically inaccurate information on it. In my former life, I spent too much time trying to correct learning due to inaccuracies. I spent two week in an orphanage in Sierra Leone and while I was there I was looking at the government-printed science textbook and saw that they switched rotate and revolve in the astronomy section so I wrote a letter to the government about them. I haven't been back yet to see if it got changed.

  4. I just started my position as a High school media specialist about 3 weeks ago and I already received my first challenge. In the 2nd week actually. My principal came to me after school was over and said that a teacher had heard students talking about a book and when he asked, they told him there was a book in the library called 'Doing It' and it was about just that. There was another as well, “Ten things we did (and probably shouldn't have)” or something like that. I don't remember the exact title. So she essentially asked me to removed them from the shelf, to call our District office and check on who'd ordered it and so on and so forth. I told her I'd call and that I'd also read the book myself to see. I read most of the book, though it was a bit slow and so fixated on 'doing it', that I had trouble getting through the beginning, so I told her that it was a bit slow, that it had language, but had been deemed appropriate for 10th graders and up and also won several awards, but she didn't want to take the chance and I was told by the district to let her make the decision, as she'd be the one who'd have to defend it. So yeah, that's my tale and Censorship won. I'm a bit disappointed, I always said I wouldn't censor, but it's easier to do when you're in the public library and your administration backs you up.

  5. I do agree, though, that if a book has innaccuracies, it should be removed, unless those innaccuracies are made known to the patrons. I don't see that as censorship, I see that as making sure that your patrons are getting the best and most accurate information out there, which is what librarians are supposed to be doing.

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