Friday, February 13, 2009

More censorship

School Library Journal has a great, thought-provoking piece on self-censorship here.

Here's an excerpt:

Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

“It’s probably fairly widespread, but we don’t have any way of really knowing, because people who self-censor are not likely to broadcast it,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children and author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library (ALA Editions, 2009). And since most people think librarians are the best champions of books, adds Scales, their jobs give them the perfect cover.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom only documents written challenges to library books and materials (there were 420 cases in 2007), and even then, it estimates that only one out of five cases are reported. But when it comes to self-censorship, it’s almost impossible to quantify because no one is monitoring it or collecting stats, and there’s no open discussion on the subject. We most often hear about it through anecdotes or if someone is willing to fess up.

“In a way, self-censorship is more frightening than outright banning and removal of challenged material,” says author and former librarian Susan Patron, because these incidents tend to “slip under the radar.”

I was especially surprised by this paragraph:

Researchers Jeff Whittingham and Wendy Rickman asked media specialists if their collections offered the most popular gay-, bisexual-, lesbian-, and transgender-themed books published between 1999 and 2005, including Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys (S & S, 2001), Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperTeen, 2003), and David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Almost always, the answer came back no.

Boy Meets Boy is one of the sweetest, most delicious YA novels out there. I can't believe that it's not shelved in most/all libraries!

In terms of censorship, I must admit that on occasion I do ask authors to replace certain words that I know teachers, parents, and librarians may object to. Two of the main culprits, aside from the obvious curse words, are "retarded" and "fag." (It actually makes me cringe just to type them.) And yes, I know kids and teens really do use those words when they speak, but personally, I wouldn't mind if they used them less. But I'll only recommend changing or deleting words depending on the usage, and depending on whether the same tone and authenticity can come across using different words. I've also often asked an author to cut down on the cussing by 50% or whatever percentage I feel is appropriate depending on the type of book it is, the intended audience, and the subject matter. But I do leave it up the author to decide. And I would never not acquire a book because of the language.

For you authors and editors, teachers, parents, and librarians out there, do you self censor?

Read my other recent post on censorship over at the Blue Rose Girls blog here.


Anonymous said...

I found the subject interesting and realized I had very strong feelings about it! I have teens and I'm sorry, but I don't want them reading about a twelve year old boy having sex with his teacher. I don't care how well it's written. My teens are still children and there is such a thing as too much information. Should they have access to everything just because they can? I struggle with this every day. As parents we are charged with censoring for our children and I have to admit that I'm glad teachers and librarians do this as well.

This is why we have a rating system for movies. I don't let my kids see R rated movies because the content isn't meant for them and might be too broad to grasp or cope with (there are exceptions - for example, I let them see Slumdog Millionaire after I'd seen it). Why should books be any different? Just because a writer decides that pedophilia is okay for a teenage audience doesn't mean it is. As parents, librarians and teachers, we have to safeguard our kids. And I really believe that underneath it all, it's more about that than politics. So if a librarian decides that a book is rated R, I trust their judgement.

I do see a difference between holding back books on difficult subject matter vs. holding back a book because it has the word scrotum in it, or features African American characters. Censorship is censorship, I guess. And I'm sorry that kids don't have access to some of these books. But I'd rather be cautious than indulgent, and I'm glad teachers and librarians are the same way.

Anonymous said...

I do tend to censor myself after losing out on a paperback auction for my first novel How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back. I used the correct anatomical terms (as Susan did in The Higher Power of Lucky) but all the publishers but Puffin got scared away. I did use "retard" in Sheep, my most recent middle-grade book but only to show how wrong the word was. Do you object to that?
Interesting discussion. . .

alvinaling said...

Anonymous, I appreciate your right to monitor what your teens read and watch--I would hope to do the same, to a certain extent. But there ARE parents and teens out there who are able to read books about pedophilia. There are probably teens dealing with the exact same issues of the teens in some of these books mentioned (I haven't read BOY TOY or some of the others mentioned, so I can't comment completely). And these teens might really benefit from being exposed to these books, to feel that they're not alone in their plight, whether it be abuse, or pedophilia, or sexuality issues, etc.

My concern is having someone else decide for the parents or teens not to carry the books, therefore rendering them unable to make that decision on their own.

Personally, I think censoring anything in the spirit of "better to be safe than sorry" is a dangerous thing.

Val, personally, I think it's fine to use the "bad words" to show character--having the bully use those words, for example. But there are those who don't want to see those words in the book at all, no matter the usage.