Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Are There Books that Should be Banned?

With Banned Books Week once again upon us, Greg McClay at SHUSH raises an interesting if controversial question:

As I'm sure many of you know Banned Book Week is coming up at the end of the month. I think its only right that we celebrate it properly by coming up with a list of books that should be banned.

Now let's clarify. There is no censorship in this country. Just because schools and public libraries don't have it doesn't make it unavailable. We're not going to go bookstore to bookstore rounding up books. So when I say 'banned' I mean books that no public library or school library should waste money or shelf space on. What books should any honest librarian just say no to, no matter how many requests for it? Is it depraved? false? useless? What? There are hundreds of books published each year. Most aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Which ones are worth less then even that?


To be honest, I approach this question with a certain amount of trepidation. As librarians we are committed to provide our users with materials that reflect a variety of perspectives. I work in an academic library, and wind up regularly selecting or ordering books that I personally regard as nonsensical. A large percentage of what comes from academic presses is, IMHO, little more than postmodernist Chomskyite gibberish. Still, I try very hard not to let my personal opinions prevent me from ordering books I dislike or disagree with.

I do feel that librarians need to be very careful about allowing our own personal biases to shape our collections. As repellant as I find them, I will in fact order books by the like of Chomsky, Michael Moore, etc, for the simple reason that they are likely to be of interest to some of our patrons. In short, I believe our users have the right to explore a variety of ideas, both good and bad.

As someone with a background in history, I even believe that academic libraries should keep books that are proven to be shoddy or even tendentious, provided they are relevant to the research interests of our users. Works like Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens not Darken, or Michael Bellesiles' Arming America are of great interest in historiographical research precisely because they are prime examples of how not to write about history.

So where do I draw the line? What books would I not order for our collection? Those that, to use a professional term, can only be described as crackpot literature. Here are some examples:

-Holocaust Denial
-9/11 Denial (i.e. the Pentagon wasn't really hit by a plane, etc.)
-Hate literature (Neo-Nazi, KKK, etc)
-Various other absurd conspiracy theories: the Earth is flat; the Moon landing was faked; AIDS was created by the CIA; everything is the fault of the Jews, or the Pope, etc.

In other words, works that dishonestly attempt to deny proven scientific and historical fact, usually in the service of a fringe ideology, and that are devoid of research interest.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Online said...

I think that there are books that should be banned. These are books that contain materials that will not help readers. Over the years, the influx of books has declined sensorship and regulation. However, researchers have found out that books contribute to the different acts of violence. Alarmingly, sommething has to be done to make things go back to normal.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Truessence said...

No book should be banned for whatever content they hold. The books you suggest you believe have no merit in libraries is an absurd suggestion. Those books have every right to be in libraries and schools. Why? Because they show a challenging view that makes us think, makes us determine for ourselves what is true and what is not. It allows people to think critically and thoroughly instead of mindlessly saying "Ya, that's right because it must be true." Books that offer different opinions or "facts" have their place in public places such as libraries and schools because it challenges what we already think and believe. It opens our minds to more perspectives and allows us to grow as a critical thinking living being.

10:00 PM  

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