A Cunning Stunt

I read the Washington Post and the New York Times this morning. In one or the other was a report of an amusing and (literally) provocative stunt pulled by some group of right-wing people somewhere.

It seems this is Banned Book Week (month, whatever), so these groups bought various books that exposed their anti-abortion, anti-Gay rights, anti-evolution, anti-everyone else views and donated them to libraries across the country. The librarians refused to put them on the shelves.

The right-wing people then cried “Book Banning!” And they were right. Almost without regard to the politics, you have to admire a good prank.

Are they right? Do we now see the “repression that is inherent in the system?”

Libraries don’t put any book they get on the shelves just because it’s free. I wouldn’t expect them to put up any random pro-gay book just because someone donated it to them either.

If true, those librarians should be at the very least reprimanded, if not fired, now, considering the source (right wing groups) I’ll wait for a more unbiased source confirming the facts before believing it.

Do you mean espoused? Because otherwise I’m confused.

No, unfortunately, there isn’t infinite resources available to stock every single book donated to a library. How many empty shelves do libraries typically have? Plus, it takes degreed librarians to categorize, enter in the info, and find room for new entries, even if there were enough space for it and the actual book was free.

Believe me, I wish that I could donate a book to a library and they’d put it on a shelf somewhere instead of selling it but that’s just not the case.

If the libraries they donated to stock comparable books with the reverse view to their anti-whatever then they may have a case. Otherwise it is just a stunt and not a very cunning one.

Also, while a library likely would have a book on Evolution where would you put a book on Creation? While technically the opposing viewpoint they do not belong in the same section. Creationism is religion and evolution science. So it is hard to do a tit-for-tat on such books I’d think.

A dirty trick but it’s not fully right or wrong. The library didn’t “ban” the books, so they’re wrong there. But if they were Oprah’s book club selections I have a feeling they would’ve found shelf space, so they’re right there. Maybe libraries should have a “hate-fueled word vomit” section.

Thanks for explaining your position, Governor Palin.


I thought it would be end up being something like that, however i think a review of what books ARE in the shelves in those libraries would be in order, to confirm that there is no bias

Most of the time, when I donate books to a local library, they wind up in the next book sale.

Yes, I’ve been involved in monograph acquisitions for an academic library, though not for a public library. The only difference, however, is that academic libraries add more of their donations to the collection, because they are trying to be more comprehensive and because they are happy to add things just-in-case someone might need them in the future.

Most libraries accept donations, but generally only on the understanding that they are free to add them to the collection or dispose of them as they see fit. If you add it to the collection, you have to catalogue it and find space on the shelves for it. (And shelf space is not free). With public libraries, there is the added consideration that they don’t want stuff on the shelves that never gets read, because it makes the users feel that the library is less relevant to their needs. (This probably ought to be a consideration for academic libraries, but they have more of a captive clientele).

There’s an exception to the general rule, which is when a person donates a collection of really special material (like grandad’s collection of medieval Tibetan manuscripts), they can insist on the collection being retained by the library. However, even then the library has to decide whether it belongs in the collection: it’s quite likely that in that case they’d reject it, but say, “Here are some libraries that specialise in Asian materials: they’d be much more suitable for giving this wonderful collection to.”

As far a considering donations of politically slanted materials is concerned, I would think that’s a point in their favour, as long as,
(1) the collection remained balanced on the political issues after including the donation, and
(2) there was likely to be some interest among the library’s clientele in reading up on the issues.
But I still would not automatically accept it.

This “prank” demonstrates a massive misunderstanding of (a) how libraries work, and (b) what Banned Book Week is all about. Let me explain.

First of all, even small libraries get hundreds or thousands of books donated every year that they simply can’t use. That’s one of the reasons they have sales. The piece of propaganda you donate will likely end up next to the 37 copies they received of the book club edition of James Patterson’s latest book at the upcoming sale. Books end up at that sale for a huge variety of reasons, including the library having too many copies of that book or not enough people checking it out to justify the shelf space.

Secondly, the “book banning” the ALA is talking about consists of people requesting or demanding the removal of a book from a school or library. This does not include the librarian. With 85,000 new titles coming out every month, librarians spend much of their career deciding what not to stock. It’s not censorship; it’s not book banning; it’s just their job.

So, Paul, when you say “…and they were right” in the OP, you’re wrong. This doesn’t even remotely resemble book banning.

How far should this one go? I can understand the library stocking more Stephen King books and less Michael Crichton books if their readers had a clear preference there but when it comes to information is it not important to include a balance of both sides? Maybe the town your library is in is all into (say) creationism…I still think the library should have books on evolution as well. I know you addressed this with your first point…just curious how far this second point is taken in choosing books.

Yes I did. Sorry.

Well, in the typical small-town library in the US, you might justify a couple of books on each side of the abortion debate. However, if the local Turkish friendship society donated 10 books in Turkish explaining the Turkish position on the (alleged) Armenian genocide, I would not go to the trouble of finding 10 books in Turkish on the other side of the argument: I’d just not accept it, because local interest would be minimal.

Those are extreme points on the continuum, and there’s plenty of room to argue about issues in the middle. With creationism vs. evolution, you would presumably have a few textbooks on biology plus a few popular books by people like Stephen Jay Gould to put the pro-evolution argument, so it would be reasonable to accept a few well-presented books on the creationist side.

So it does not count when a government employee decides what to exclude from the library? Book banning is only when the parts of the community wants a book excluded.

Please, explain further.

Of course, book banning can be done by librarians and other government employees, and has been done many times and in many places. But not purchasing a book or not accepting a donation is not necessarily book banning. It depends on why you did not accept the book, and it helps to have a decent collection development policy to justofy your decisions.

To take an example very remote from politics, if a librarian decided not to buy books by Enid Blyton because they were “trashy” and not worth reading, that would be a form of book banning. However, if there were no Noddy and Big Ears books in the library because in the past children had never or rarely borrowed the books, that would be a responsible collection development decision.


Several librarians go into some detail on library collections decisions here

(I think its this thread - its a long one and you have to get through all the ‘Palin is EEEVVVIIILLLL’ content. It will also explain Shodan’s aside.)


(eta, the thread helps)

I think it’s referring to Palin off-handedly wondering what the librarian would do if people tried to donate certain books and there just wasn’t enough space in the library for them all!