Sunday, March 12, 2023

Attacking Public Libraries & Librarians!

In May of last year in a Missive about Banned Book Clubs I wrote, “Happily, individual libraries and librarians are at the forefront of keeping freedom to read what you wish alive and encouraging young people to learn history and societies priorities through reading. The Brooklyn Public Library is offering free digital library cards to young people ages 13 to 21 across in the U.S.”

I spoke too soon. On March 4th of this year Hannah Allam of The Washington Post published very frightening article, she writes “… a parent-led movement in a handful of schools to ban books about race and sexuality has evolved into an organized nationwide campaign that library advocates say represent the greatest threat to intellectual freedom since the McCarthy era.”

That is Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, together with his allies, in the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s saw communists everywhere and suspected anyone with leftward leanings. They were blacklisted if not thrown in jail. Pete Seeger the well known folk singer was one of the victims of McCarthy’s congressional hearings. As a result Seeger was banned from television and radio during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Do read his amazing story.

It is always the same, those who do not learn history are bound to repeat it.

According to the American Library Association (ALA) their members face “an unprecedented threat of censorship, fueled by a blend of hard-right politics and Christian nationalism… Librarians who reject book banning have been threatened, harassed, sued, fired and labeled “groomers” and “pedophiles” by social media”.

It gets even worse as politicians are pushing for laws to criminalize teachers and librarians. No wonder these underpaid people who work for a more educated public are quitting because on top of everything else they are being terrorized.

Last year Pen America celebrated its 100th anniversary. From their website, “PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.” Pen acknowledges 1,641 book titles blacklisted and writes that there are more. The subject matter covers a very wide range, not just sex issues such as LGBTQ+ and racism, but also books about rights and activism and even books with characters and stories that reflect minorities, such as Jewish, Muslim and other faiths and traditions.

The two most banned books on one list are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey . With Sherman Alexie the controversy stems from his discussion of alcohol, poverty, bullying, violence, and sexuality. I am reading another book by Alexie right now where those subjects are included as part of the life of a Native American on the Spokane Reservation in the state of Washington. What are we protecting people from? The Truth!

The banned Captain Underpants series won a Kids' Choice Award on April 4, 2006. It includes 12 books, two activity books, and 15 spin-offs that, as of 2014, the series had been translated into more than 20 languages, with more than 80 million books sold worldwide. Are we to protect elementary schoolers from the stories of two misbehaving 4th grade boys who invent a superhero in underwear that has engaged so many in reading?

The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, upon hearing that her most famous book, “The Handmaid’s Tale” was being banned encouraged those that banned it. She said the more the book is banned the more copies she will sell. The censors, however, are going after bookstores as well.

Self-censorship is the next step. Puffin Books, the publishers of Roald Dahl’s classic dark children’s books, are now issuing sanitized versions eliminating descriptions like fat, ugly, bald and crazy.

Are ‘they’ going to censor Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” next? You don’t think so? From Hamlet, “That’s a fair thought, to lie between maids’ legs”. Hopefully ‘they’ have not read it yet.

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