Well, that sounds terribly wrong, doesn’t it? It would be wrong, too – if it were true.
Here’s an idea for a game that anyone can play. 1) Collect an armload of books that agree with your viewpoint on a controversial issue. The quality of the books doesn’t matter; bonus points if they’re published by what’s known in the industry as a “vanity press.” 2) Take them to your local public or school library and tell the librarian you want to make a donation. 3) When any or all of the books you donated are declined because they don’t meet the standards for inclusion in the collection, claim that they have been “banned” and that your personal rights have been violated.
The political stunt described above is what Focus on the Family did to honor Banned Books Week, as reported yesterday in the Washington Post. The Colorado Springs behemoth arranged for a group of students and parents to donate a collection of anti-gay books to some Fairfax Public School libraries; the books were reviewed according to the standards for the acquisition of library materials, and found to be lacking.
None of the donated titles met that standard, said Susan Thornily, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax schools. Some librarians also said that the nonfiction books were heavy on scripture but light on research, or that the books would make gay students “feel inferior,” she said.
Thornily said school librarians have rejected other books that “target minority groups” and would offend African Americans or other nonwhite students. In this case, librarians were concerned about the level of scholarship in the books, many of which come from small church publishers.
The activist group then held a press conference to declare themselves victims of censorship; Focus on the Family even flew one of their media people out from Colorado for the “event.” This strategy of redefining terms like “book banning” is something we are seeing more and more of. It’s just another version of the up-is-down notion that if people with anti-gay prejudice are inhibited from violating the rights of GLBT people, their own rights are being violated, or when we assert our right to live free of discrimination, we are being “intolerant” of those who wish to discriminate against us.
The Fairfax blog has helpfully made this easier to explain by drawing a comparison between their stunt and the controversy in Loudoun last summer over the children’s book And Tango Makes Three.
Tango was in the collection of several of our elementary school libraries because of the merits of the book. When it was selected by professional librarians, it was not simply because it added a viewpoint held by some in the community that was otherwise unrepresented in the collection. Although that is a legitimate criterion enumerated in most standards, materials also must meet other criteria of quality and scholarship. In the case of Tango, the book has won many awards and is otherwise highly regarded. There are many other books that present the idea of same sex parents, but they are of uneven quality. Many of them would not meet this standard of excellence, and I don’t think I have the “right” to demand that they be added to a collection just because I might agree with an idea they express. That’s not enough.
The Fairfax blog actually quoted me speaking about those who have embarked on campaigns to remove certain books from libraries in both Loudoun and Wasilla, Alaska:
…[they] find the expression of ideas with which they disagree intolerable, so much so that they will lie, steal, destroy property and abuse whatever power they may have in order to silence those ideas.
Interestingly, this quote refers to the fact that in Wasilla, a particular book targeted by Sarah Palin’s church in 1996 repeatedly disappeared from the public library, or was returned with pages ripped out or defaced. It’s difficult to see any similarity between this unlawful (not to mention uncivil) behavior, and the determination by a librarian that another book isn’t good enough to make the cut – yet, that’s exactly what they are claiming: “Sounds just like what is happening here in Fairfax!” And it should be obvious that there are a lot more books in the world than there is space in public school libraries to shelve them. Most books don’t make the cut. Appropriately, the Fairfax information services coordinator is willing to work with these residents to address their concerns:
Thornily said she has offered to help find books that meet the county standards and offer a religious view on homosexuality along with other views. She has asked librarians to consider adding such books to their collections.
That’s exactly what she should do – and she presumably would do the same with any other constituency that claimed their viewpoint was underrepresented. And this part made me laugh:
Focus on the Family selected and supplied the books. The teenagers assembled yesterday did not say they had read any of them.
Please – in the future, if you are going to participate in a stunt where you profess that your rights are being cruelly violated because your very important book isn’t taking up precious shelf space – read the book first.