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Whips AND chains

story-of-oI’d really like to ban the term “self-censorship” from discourse, given that we already have a spectrum of words–from “prudence” to “cowardice”–that say more precisely what we mean, and because it causes us to be confused about what censorship actually is.

As Megan Schliesman at Reading While White posted last week, the discussion about A Birthday Cake for George Washington is not about censorship. People talking about what’s wrong with the book are not censors; people saying it will damage children are not censors; Scholastic deciding to cease the book’s distribution is not censorship. Hell, somebody buying a copy of the book only in order to consign it to a bonfire is not censorship. (I think I told you guys I did this once, with a Sidney Sheldon book whose utter disregard for logical plot construction and consistent characterization caused me to pitch it into the fireplace by which I was reading. It felt naughty.)

Censorship happens when the government–and this includes public libraries–gets into the business of restricting access to information. As far as A Birthday Cake for George Washington is concerned, it would be censorship if a library that held a copy decided to restrict readership to adults, for example, or removed it from the collection on the basis of its being “offensive” or “harmful to children.” It is also censorship if a public library decided not to purchase the book on the grounds that it is offensive or harmful, or if the library thinks it will get into trouble with those who find it so. This is of course very tricky–libraries don’t purchase more books than they do, and it’s rarely one criterion that guides that decision. Here is where we have to trust in the librarian’s integrity and the library’s book selection policy and adherence to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I know I’ve told the story here before about the librarian I knew who didn’t purchase a sex ed book for children on the grounds that it didn’t have an index. Yes, it did not have an index–but that wasn’t the reason she didn’t buy it.

I bring all this up because of an interesting exchange I had on Twitter last week with YA novelist Daniel José Older. Reacting in a subtweet to my post about A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake, Older wrote “Ah here’s the Horn/Sutton tut tutting on why Scholastic should’ve let kids read that book,” with a screenshot of part of the post. I replied–or barged in, depending on your views about subtweeting–that I and the Horn believe kids should be allowed to read any book they wish. Then he asked me if I was cool with kids reading Little Black Sambo, Mein Kampf and The Story of O. (I think he dated us both with that last example.) Although I’m aware that this was intended as a sort of gotcha rhetorical question, it made me realize that Mr. Older is probably not familiar with the way librarians think. I said I was perfectly fine with kids reading any or all of those three books.

A bias toward believing that people, kids included, should be able to read whatever they want is so ingrained in librarianship that we can forget that it seems like a radical stance to civilians. And as discussions about children’s books have moved, via social media, beyond the usual suspects of teachers, librarians, and publishers, it would be good for all concerned to remember that our assumptions are not necessarily shared.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. While I don’t think you are saying this, I really hope we aren’t getting to a point where people think a library that didn’t purchase Birthday Cake was attempting to censor it. We didn’t purchase it. For one thing, it just came out and librarians don’t pre-order every book, particularly those of us in small- to medium-size libraries. Two, the reviews I had seen thus far were not positive, which means I would have to see a positive review or two successfully countering the objections of those other reviews to justify purchasing it. Which leads to a third issue, which is that the reviews indicated that it was historically inaccurate in multiple ways, which may or may not be an issue for selecting librarians.

    Now, those inaccuracies may make a title “harmful” or “offensive,” but that doesn’t make the harm or offense the reason for not purchasing the title – it’s the historical inaccuracies that are the root of the problem. Well, at least for me they are. YMMV. I don’t have the budget to spend on titles that are poorly reviewed and (in the case of books based on historical events) reported to be inaccurate. I barely have the budget to purchase all of the well-reviewed titles I’d like to get.

    I order (and defend) plenty of controversial titles, as well as books I despise and disagree with. It’s my job. So, when I see people falling all over themselves to say that librarians (and others) are censoring this book (and others) simply because they disagree with it, I strongly suspect they really don’t understand what we do when we select materials for our collections. Several of the books in dispute recently are in our collection. That doesn’t mean I think they deserve awards, but my opinion (and others) on their status as awards-contenders is not censorship. I (and others) aren’t preventing people from checking out these materials. That’s a distinction that I think is often missed in these conversations.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Where I fear Scholastic is pointing people is to a whole new category of book challenges: historical inaccuracy. I can think of a few people who must already be drawing up their lists, and predict we’ll be hearing from them in a day or two.

  3. Anonymous – Whereas I’m imagining the folks set to challenging my weeding decisions because they cling to inaccurate romanticized histories. Historical and/or factual inaccuracy is a perfectly cromulent reason for weeding materials. I used that as one of my criteria for weeding quite a few books just this past summer while cleaning up certain sections of our collection that had been neglected for too long.

    Now, this won’t affect me as much as others because 1) I’m fairly confident in what I do and I’m not easily intimidated, and 2) I know my bosses and library board have my back. However, not everyone is like me or as well-situated as I am in terms of support.

    These conversations have repeatedly shown me that many non-librarians (and, unfortunately, some librarians) really don’t get censorship as a government-imposed stricture. They also don’t understand different types of challenges (informal and formal) and the processes undertaken in the event of a formal challenge which, obviously, differ from library to library, but rarely lead to materials being automatically removed from shelves.

  4. Reposting, due to formatting errors above that I hope are fixed here:

    Roger–you say “the way librarians think” as if they’re monolithic. You point to the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights as if it is a final word, but you do not point to other parts of ALA that speak to diversity.

    ALSC’s Competencies have several statements regarding diversity. Here’s the link:
    http://www.ala.org/alsc/edcareeers/alsccorecomps
    In I.2, is this:
    “Recognizes racism, ethnocentrism, classism, heterosexism, genderism, ableism, and other systems of discrimination and exclusion in the community and its institutions, including the library, and interrupts them by way of culturally competent services.”

    At the ALA pages about collection development, the CREW Manual is included. It, as we discussed before, includes specific language about stereotypes. Here’s the ALA page:
    http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet15

    And here’s a link to the CREW Manual:
    https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/pubs/crew/index.html

    And, in the Heavy Medal discussions last year about awards, I pointed to new language in the manuals that committee members use. Here’s a link to the Caldecott manual: http://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/caldecott_manual_august2015_current%20on%20website.pdf

    And here’s a passage from that manual:
    “As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.”

    A lot of librarians read your blog, Roger, and I think you do everyone a disservice in these conversations when you select certain things to point them to, and not others.

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Debbie, none of the ALA documents you cite contradict the LBR, which is a cornerstone of the Association and profession. Of course, there are librarians who aim to cleanse their collections of things they find noxious or potentially trouble-making, but I don’t see why I’m responsible for making their arguments, or why you would even want me to do so.

  6. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    KB; the subtitle of A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, reads “A True Story,” but a sentence in the copyright statement says “this book is a work of fiction,” and the author’s note indicates where she departed from the historical record. I’m guessing the dialogue is invented. All in all, I would classify the book as fiction.

  7. Roger – I would argue that even historical fiction has some responsibility towards historical accuracy when the story is about real figures and is presented to children who don’t yet have the background or cognitive ability to make these distinctions. From what I’ve seen, this particular book doesn’t claim to be an exaggerated tall tale or another form that would indicate to a child reader that this isn’t an actual true story.

    And, for what it’s worth, many of our adult patrons don’t understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction (I wish I were exaggerating). I don’t expect the kids who are read picture books to, either.

    What d like to know are who are all of these librarians cleansing their collections. I like data and citations, so do you have some?

  8. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    KB, I’m not arguing for or against the purchase of A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON; that is up to the individual selector. But I think that whether or not to categorize the book as fiction must be a part of the selection decision.

    I don’t think many librarians who practice censorship are going to tell you that, or even believe that that is what they are doing (see my example of the sex book that didn’t have an index). But there have been studies done about the intersection of selection and censorship; here is one that also includes citations to others: http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol13/SLR_StudyofSelf-Censorship_V13.pdf

  9. Ack! Just saw all of the typos in my previous comment. This is what comes of trying to respond on my phone.

    If we had selected it, it would have gone with our fiction picture books. But, we also have quite a few books in that area that adhere closely to historical accuracy, the exception being some made up dialogue.

    As a sidenote: We sometimes play fast and loose with the categorization of books that are on the borderline. Our building is situated in a way that nonfiction isn’t as visible as we’d like it to be, so it can sometimes be the place that nonfiction/informational picture books go to die. Since we’re in a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places, our options are limited in terms what we can do to change the layout. There are rules we must follow and extensive permissions that must be granted.

    I’ve seen that study before. I thought you were referring to some specific instances based on the way you phrased the sentence, particularly considering the way some of these discussion have gone, recently. As I said earlier, it seems that many people are conflating “this book is not worthy of an award for reason x” with “this book must be eradicated from the world.” It’s frustrating.

  10. Here’s the way this librarian thinks. I would be OK with children having access to “Little Black Sambo”, “Mein Kampf” and “The Story of O”. However, I would not be OK with children reading these. I’d check the books out to them, but I wouldn’t like it a bit.

    Or…maybe I’d suggest “Sam and the Tigers” to the kid as a better version of the Sambo story..

  11. I don’t agree with the definition of censorship as only being carried out by a government agency. If I am in a position of power over you, and I try to prevent you from reading something, it is censorship. I personally would actually probably recommend against a kid reading The Story of O, and I would be okay with it being called censorship.

  12. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I’m with Meggan here–under most circumstances I would not WANT a child to read any of those three books, but being a librarian sometimes means just holding your breath (and tongue) and saying your prayers (if you pray). I wish I could remember where I read that the best libraries always make you feel a little nervous. It’s not the Dorothy Broderick (I think) quote about hoping-something-is-here-to-offend-you.

    Susan do you remember when we were young and there was a ruckus in the profession about a Top of the News article called “Who, me, censor?” It was expressing approximately the same view as yours. While most adults have occasion to use our power to restrict what a child reads (or watches, or listens to), a public librarian, in her professional capacity as a public servant, is doing something else, If in its by-laws a library grants child readers the same rights as adults, the librarian is legally obligated to honor that policy. I think most of us would recommend against a kid reading Story of O, but that’s different from not allowing a kid to read it.

  13. For what it’s worth, one of my strongest childhood memories of the library is not being allowed to check out books from the adult department (per policy). The library would not allow my parents to sign off on an agreement to allow me to check out items. So, even though I could walk to the library after school, my parents had to come back with me so that I could have materials at my reading level. Fortunately, I had parents who allowed me access to any book I wanted. Not all kids have that. My second strongest memory is of the children’s librarian not wanting to help me retrieve a book from a high shelf because she insisted I wouldn’t like a “boy book.”

    As you might imagine, I have strong personal feelings about not restricting children’s access to materials. But, access and promotion are different things. Access and award-worthiness are different things. Do we have racist or otherwise offensive materials in our collection? We do? Would I use these items uncritically in a program? I wouldn’t. I have many other books available for use.

  14. And, obviously, there shouldn’t have been a question mark after “we do.”

  15. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Are librarians honor-bound by The Code to specifically *not* engage patrons when checking out books? Is it over the line to sneak in come context? “That book has a really complicated history — we can talk about it if you’d like” or “That book is usually read by older people — ask a grownup if you have questions.” I have a vague childhood memory of a librarian nearly thwarting me checking out “Flowers in the Attic” using such tactics. (But in the end I did check it out. And I DID NOT ask a grownup any questions 🙂

  16. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Me too, K8! 1966, Oakdale Branch Library. While i think there was a rule about children not being allowed to check out adult books, I had done so without a problem until that one fateful day in fifth grade. I think that might have turned me into a librarian.

    Elissa, librarians are expected to do their best to make sure that all patrons are getting the books they want–that kid checking out The Story of O might think it’s a Shel Silverstein book, for example. But edtitorializing, in my opinion, should be resisted. And while it’s fine to caution a kid that a book might be too complicated or difficult for him, the librarian should be both encouraging and comprehensive–you don’t want to just say this about books with sexy or racist stuff.

    While I don’t think any librarian is under an obligation to use Little Black Sambo in a story hour, you don’t get to hide it, either, or label it in such a way that indicates the library disapproves of its content. Awards depend on their stated criteria-as Debbie points out above, ALSC had added statements about diversity to its award committee manuals; I wish they would attach the LBR as well.

  17. “Scholastic deciding to cease the book’s distribution is not censorship.”

    Are you saying there’s no such thing as corporate censorship? At one point Scholastic believed in their book, enough to publish it and offer a defense of it on their blog. Then something changed their minds (what was it and does knowing what it was matter?) and now access to it is lost. If “censorship” isn’t an accurate description of what Scholastic did, what is the more precise word? “Prudence” and “cowardice” seem more like adjectives of motivation, rather than meaningful descriptions of the act.

    Did you see that story a couple years ago where parents took issue with a book by Julia Donaldson because it had a smoking scarecrow? Some called for the withdrawal of that book, too, because smoking was “just too adult a concept for the intended audience” and “It feels like Julia is trying to get across an anti-smoking message (really? Do two-year-olds need this?!) but it just comes off as inappropriate and out of place.” Scholastic, instead of removing the book, offered a similar defense of it as they did at first for ABCFGW: reading the book will give the parents a chance to talk about the issue with their children. Let’s put aside the question of whether or not Scholastic should’ve withdrawn that book as well. What I’m wondering is: If the word “censorship” should only be used when government does it, what are we going to call it when gatekeepers start to request publishers to remove books that conflict with our ideologies? What are we going to call it when the publishers accede?

  18. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    But Bradin, is it censorship when a publisher chooses not to publish a book in the first place? Or lets a book go out of print? If, in fact, Scholastic withdrew Birthday Cake because they felt it was the right decision for their long-term profit and brand strategies, isn’t it then a simple business decision? Alternatively, if Scholastic sincerely changed its mind about the book and came to see it as racist, doesn’t it have the right to pull a product from the market that it does not want to defend?

    It is questions like these that cause me to keep my definition of censorship simple.

  19. But Roger, why is it fine for a librarian to caution a child that a book might be too difficult for him? I think it’s such a delicate moment when a child chooses a book, and the last thing an adult should do is saying anything that could discourage him. As a child, I would have taken that suggestion as an order, coming from an authority figure. Probably I was (and still am) oversensitive… Also, a librarian would never caution an adult the same way, even though there are many books that are too difficult for most adults.
    I’ve always loved these lines from Dahl’s Matilda:
    “Would you like me to help you find a nice one with lots of pictures in it?”
    “No, thank you,” Matilda said. “I’m sure I can manage.”

  20. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    ENCOURAGINGLY, I said, and you have to know the particular child and the book. The goal is that they not feel cheated or an idiot if they can’t manage something they thought they could, or if the book is not what they thought it was. Librarians are good at asking questions in tactful and helpful ways to make sure the reader is getting what he or she wants.

  21. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    This goes for adult readers, too–when someone would come to the reference desk to find out where the WWII books were shelved, for example, I had to find out if they just wanted to browse books about the war or if they were trying to track down a single fact. If I simply took them over to the 940s and 50s I was only doing half my job.

  22. Of course. I know what you are saying, and I’m sure most librarians do as you describe. As I said, I was an oversensitive child!

  23. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Join the club, Sergio. There’s a great scene in Sandra Scoppetone’s landmark gay-YA Trying Hard to Hear You where the heroine, trying to understand homosexuality, goes into her favorite bookstore to buy everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but is so embarrassed about buying it that she adds two other books to her order “to balance it out.” Librarians try to make all of their patrons as comfortable as possible!

  24. “…is it censorship when a publisher chooses not to publish a book in the first place?”

    I’d say probably not. I think “selection” works fine as a description of that kind of action. The book doesn’t really exist yet and it hasn’t received moralistic pushback from anyone. To my mind, both of those seem like necessary requirements for determining censorship.

    “Or lets a book go out of print?”

    That seems more in line with the business decision stuff. At least in that scenario the book and the public were given a chance. I suppose if the book still sold well, but they let it go out of print because of some moral outcry (say, for example, if Harper let The Little House books go out of print), I would likely call that censorship.

    “If, in fact, Scholastic withdrew Birthday Cake because they felt it was the right decision for their long-term profit and brand strategies, isn’t it then a simple business decision? Alternatively, if Scholastic sincerely changed its mind about the book and came to see it as racist, doesn’t it have the right to pull a product from the market that it does not want to defend?”

    This is a tougher one, and I don’t feel too secure in my answer. Of course I think they have the right, and I certainly wouldn’t blame them for watching after their long-term profits. If they had pulled the book without first offering a defense of it, and if there had been no moral demands by the public to pull the book, I would feel more inclined to just call it a “simple business decision.” But it looks awfully evident the change of heart was prompted by the moral outcry. I’m still wondering if that matters in the consideration of censorship. I feel like it does. But even if you’re correct about their motivations and all that, does that make pulling the book anymore okay, from our point of view? If not, I’d argue use of the word “censorship” would help us identify why. But I can see, if you believe only the government can censor, why that might be an unfair specter to bring up in the conversation.

    “It is questions like these that cause me to keep my definition of censorship simple.”

    I guess I can see where you’re coming from with these questions. But, again, then what do we call what happened? What’s a more precise word or description for Scholastic’s action here? Without that, I don’t know how else to describe the process of a corporation removing a book from the marketplace because of moralistic pushback from the gatekeepers. I think we maintain meanings and definitions of words because they’re useful (which is part of my gripe with the whole graphic novels are picture books gimmickry). If a book is published and then taken away because of the moral outrage of a few, that seems in line with a useful definition of censorship. Already, though, I’m questioning myself here, so feel free to keep reinforcing those doubts lol.

  25. Lynn Van Auken says:

    ” . . . what do we call what happened?”

    I would call it responsive publishing. Publishers and librarians make decisions about what to publish, what to purchase, and who is allowed access to said purchases on a daily basis. Publishers and librarians’ jobs are inherently fraught with subjectivity.
    As a school librarian in a PreK – 8 school, I do not feel I am censoring my second graders by disallowing them access to YA books. Or a kindergartener whose family does not celebrate Halloween by warmly suggesting s/he borrow Spark instead of Dragon’s Halloween. I consider it part of my job to be aware of and respond to the developmental, cultural, social, and emotional needs of my students.
    It seems to me that what Scholastic has done is respond to the developmental, cultural, social and emotional needs of its customers. I do not believe thoughtful, responsive reconsideration constitutes censorship.

    Now if we could only get them to thoughtfully and responsively respond to the disturbing abundance of toys and chotchkes included in their book fairs . . .

  26. Hi Lynn. Thanks for your response. If possible, let’s leave aside the parent/librarian/teacher stuff for now. I feel even less sure about how censorship relates to those roles, and everything I mention above is only about the publisher. Also, I understand publishers make the decisions about what gets published. I personally don’t think that’s censorship. I’m strictly talking about when a publisher puts a book out there, defends it, then, after it receives vocal moralistic pushback, limits access to the book by pulling it from the marketplace.

    But, okay, responsive publishing. What if Scholastic had pulled the Julia Donaldson book I spoke of earlier based on pushback they received from parents who didn’t want to see smoking in a children’s book? Smoking is bad for you after all, and do we really want our young children to be exposed to images of it in a children’s book before parents are ready to explain it to them? Would pulling that book be an example of “thoughtful, responsive reconsideration?” Or what if a Little, Brown had responded to conservative pushback and pulled The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the market? I may have shared this video before, but I want to again, because I think it’s a good one:

    https://youtu.be/S_A7_H9NjZA

    Look at the way her fingers tremble. Listen to that conviction in her voice. She believes in her version of morality as strongly as we believe in ours. Even though I like Alexie’s book, and personally don’t identify with her politics, I find this grandmother’s case much more compelling than abstract arguments about developmental, cultural, social and emotional needs of children. Her children did come from her womb, and will always be a part of her life, so why shouldn’t she have a say in stopping them from being exposed to “filth?” In this video, she’s talking to a school board, but what if she were pleading to the publisher directly. Why shouldn’t the publisher listen to this grandmother (or thousands of others who feel just as strongly), carefully considering her desires, and thoughtfully acceding to them? And if they did would you label it responsive publishing? If not, then that label might not be adequate.

    I anticipate that you or someone else might accuse me of creating a straw-man or a false equivalency between these examples and what happened to ABCFGW. I kind of hope someone does and I hope they can help me understand why. Because these seem like valid examples to me. Yes, there are differences between them, but the main points, to my mind, are similar enough to warrant the comparison.

  27. Roger, you seem comfortable in the conviction that libraries will continue to offer effectively uncensored content to children as publishers, writers, and critics on their separate track pursue a policy of mindfulness in observing the strictures of identity politics. Do you believe that those who have brought these issues of content to the forefront will settle for the rather low-stakes question (money and job security aside) of which new books see the light of day, while allowing thousands of old children’s books to rest undisturbed on the shelf? You must not see these folks as having, or seeking, much power. Their vehemence rather suggests otherwise to me.

  28. Anonymoius says:

    Brandin, you make an excellent point. Ten or twenty ago, it would have been people like Daniel Jose Older and Debbie Reese (and I bet you and me!) in the front lines of the defense of writers like Chris Crutcher, Alex Sanchez, and Sherman Alexie, whose content may have been compelling to you and me but which was clearly offensive to a significant percentage of the population. Now they support Scholastic pulling a book off the market because it does not present a story in the context that they want, and because the content is clearly offensive to them (but not to the POC team that created it). Bad precedent. Not publishing in the first place is one thing. There are alternatives these days for every writer. But once the book is on the market, absent a Jayson Blair situation, the thing to do is let the market decide.

  29. marc aronson says:

    It may be a bit late to join in on all this, but Roger’s mention of LBS reminded of a talk I once went to, and if I am not wrong, the speaker was Carla Hayden. The speaker mentioned her strong criticism of LBS — and then said she once asked a young relative what was his favorite book. That turned out to be….LBS. Why, she asked in horror. B/c he explained, the boy in the book liked pancakes and he himself loved his grandmother’s pancakes. The point being kids take what they take out of books — not what we fear, or hope, they will.

    On George: one point that has not — to my knowledge — been raised is how much the focus in historical scholarship has shifted to how enslaved peoples made their lives, re-created themselves, even, one might say, found paths to moments of happiness — not as a way of accepting oppression but of living, moving forward. There is a heroism is finding life under horrible conditions. From that POV the book celebrates enslaved people’s ability to love, share, find joy even in bondage — while in no sense diminishing the pain of enslavement. Perhaps more could have been made of this perspective in a note from the proper Ph.D. professor with accompanying teaching guide — that is an editorial question not a book content question.

  30. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    The tension between intellectual freedom advocacy and progressivism has been a part of children’s librarianship since at least the 1960s. And frequently found in the same person! So, no I am not worried that what happened to A Birthday Cake for George Washington presages some great era of book-banning. The critics of that book–and of A Fine Dessert–gave us a discussion that was valuable for everybody, and I hope that its vehemence does not lead publishers to shy away from the topic of slavery but instead to bring us books that are better.

  31. Good heavens, book-banning! Finally! Imagine the feverish excitement among librarians. But I don’t know why – or how – you would do that when you can accomplish the same thing by weeding.
    And who complains about weeding? As we all know, none but cranks. 🙂

  32. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    A flyspecked but fascinating collection of documents from the 1970s about the tension I discuss above: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED127401.pdf

  33. marc aronson says:

    I knew about that 70s controversy but so glad you posted those old files, perfect current reading. This spring I am working on a book in which, in one section, I will speak about and share images of blackface minstrelsy. Now what is fascinating there is that here you have pure demeaning stereotyping created expressly to demean and humiliate (in abscencia, audiences were whites only) that was the most popular form of entertainment in non-black America for 90 or so years. Yet in a strange way it was non-black America wanting to experience, to be animated by, be enlivened by, black music, dance, talent. And eventually black performers blacked up themselves — took over the demeaning medium and (to a point) transcended it.

  34. Sesame Street says:

    Skimming those documents, the request that “brotherhood” be supplanted by “amity” caught my eye. Ridiculous, but expressive in a way of a goal that would now be considered quaint if not outright deleterious. And it probably never was the goal, but a whole generation of us was raised on lip service to it; and it’s hard to completely shake off.

  35. Since no one else has, wanted to leave the link to Daniel José Older’s Guardian piece here. It’s also illustrative to read the comments in this thread regarding Little Black and minstrelsy in concert with the recent Lee & Low study regarding demographics in the publishing industry. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/29/smiling-slaves-the-real-censorship-in-childrens-books

  36. That’s Little Black Sambo, of course. Apologies.

  37. Hi Roger,
    I’ve been thinking about this post since I first read it, as collection development is an area in which I teach and research. Since I’ve been bogged down with teaching and finishing an article the past two weekends, I wasn’t able to participate in the comments while they were still active. I did write a blog post in response to your first paragraph. I want to share that here in a spirit of goodwill before someone else does: http://www.transformingamericanlibraries.com/2016/02/self-censorship.html

    Warmest Regards,
    Robin

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