As The Book Is Banned, A Cautionary Tale

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NeonomiconBannedI haven’t written a librarian post in quite some time, mainly because I haven’t been an official librarian in several years now. However, I remain a librarian at heart and just because I’m not working in a library, I haven’t turned a blind eye to the library world and the eye of the library world is blackened and puffy due to events transpiring right in my home town public library system. A book has been banned in from the Greenville County Public Library System.

The Greenville News has the entire story, but allow me to give you a short precis’. Last year, a fourteen year old girl used her father’s library card to check out Alan Moore’s graphic novel Neonomicon. When she showed the book to her mother, the mother was aghast and appalled at the content so she took the book back to the library and lodged a formal complaint. As per the library’s policy, a materials review committee went over the book using all the various criteria for selection such as literary merit, author reputation, awards, etc. After a thorough and careful review, the committee voted to uphold the book’s inclusion in the library’s collection. Then events took an ominous turn. The director of the library system, one Ms. Beverly James, used her “executive authority” to go against her own policy and OVERRULE HER EMPLOYEE COMMITTEE by ordering the book removed.

Let’s review. ONE person made a complaint about a book. The complaint went through proper protocols and channels. The committee upheld the book’s placement. The library director — a librarian with education and experience — went against their recommendation and BANNED THE BOOK.

A LIBRARIAN BANNED A BOOK!! This wasn’t a city council pressured by picketing pressure groups or a school board acting to quell an imagined scandal. This was a librarian taking a book off the shelves because ONE PARENT COMPLAINED! What’s next? Garbage-men pouring trash into the streets? Plumbers causing leaks in pipes? Congress passing meaningful legislation?

In the interest of full disclosure, Neonomicon is a harsh book. Alan Moore wrote it as a commentary on the horror genre and how it is racist and misogynistic. Since it is a graphic novel, it has pictures and some of the pictures show an orgy and later a rape scene. Did I mention it was a horror book? I can understand a parent not wanting his or her child to read this book. I get that, but that’s the issue.

This is Ms. Beverly James. She ordered a book banned after her materials review committee upheld it.

This is Ms. Beverly James, Director of the Greenville County Library System. She ordered a book banned after her materials review committee upheld it.

If you are a parent, you have EVERY right in the world to monitor your child or teen’s reading habits. You have the right to order YOUR child not to read something. You have the right to impose your views on morality on your children. I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a tremendous problem with is when YOU try to impose YOUR views on MY child and — regardless of how you want to sugar coat it — that is what censorship is, one person or one group of people imposing THEIR views on others by denying others the opportunity to books, movies, etc which the others have a First Amendment right to see and read.

Simply put, NO parent has the right to RAISE ANOTHER PARENT’S CHILDREN, but that is exactly what this ONE woman has done. She has, with the complicity of the HEAD LIBRARIAN of our county system, told EVERY teenager in this county “You cannot read this book because I don’t like it.”

I find that appalling.

Someone in the comments section of the article tried to defend Ms. James by saying she was acting in the interest of the prevailing views of the community and THAT is where another serious problem crops up. Librarians are PUBLIC servants. They act as agents of the state / city. As agents of the state, librarians are responsible for acting in the interest of the ENTIRE COMMUNITY, not just those who hold power or majority views. A librarian does not and should not have the luxury of allowing his or her personal views to taint his or her service to the community served. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Is it just me or is the resemblance amazingly uncanny?

Is it just me or is the resemblance amazingly uncanny?

A friend of mine is a librarian in a high school in the upstate. She has a good selection of LGBT young adult novels as well as reference books and other non-fiction books that address LGBT topics. She put this collection together because her school has a growing number of students who identify as LGBT and she wants THEM to have a place and voice in the library even though she personally doesn’t support the LGBT lifestyle because it runs counter to her beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. She is and has always been VERY conservative but she realizes something lots of people don’t — she is an agent of the state from the time she gets out of her car on campus until she gets back in to leave.

She gets a lot of heat from people, including people in her own family for having such a liberal selection policy, but I applaud her because she realizes something too many Christians, especially in the South in general and the communities here in the Buckle of the Bible Belt do not — THE MORALITY OF HER STUDENTS IS THEIR PARENTS” RESPONSIBILITY, NOT HERS. Her job is to serve the school community as a whole, not promote any agenda.

Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t or won’t see the bigger picture. I support freedom to read, freedom of religion, and the separation of church and state NOT because I am not a Christian, but because I am and I’ve realized something — our majority is slipping. Islam is growing in America by leaps and bounds. Latin American Catholicism, which has some unsettling differences from the run of the mill Catholic churches around here, is growing with the growing influx of Latinos — legal and illegal. What happens when W.A.S.P.s are no longer in control? It’s something to think about and think about carefully. Sure, you probably support prayer in schools, but what happens when the class president or valedictorian is a Muslim and wants to pray in Allah’s name instead of Jesus’? When that day comes, and it WILL come, many Christians will be wishing they had listened to Thomas Jefferson’s message to the Danbury Baptist Association much more carefully.

So what does that have to do with the book banning? Everything. To boil it down, if WE insist on banning THEIR books today because we can, what do we say when the shoe is on the other foot and they want to ban OUR books? Think about this before I go; the woman who started the ball rolling which ended in Neonomicon being banned cited the book’s graphic depiction of violence and nudity as her reasons for wanting the book off the shelves. As an amateur theologian who has read the book cover to cover many times, I can tell you this — if graphic depiction of violence and misogyny were grounds for banning a book, the Old Testament of the Holy Bible wouldn’t  last a week.

Love you all, and I hope this makes it to the computers of some of my former colleagues so they can spread the alarm around the state and around the country. Now, keep those feet clean AND dry and I’ll catch you next time.

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