Sunday, May 03, 2009

West Bend, WI Library Board Members Dismissed for Doing Their Job

Publisher's Weekly reported recently that "four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed last week for refusing to remove controversial books from the library’s young adult section..." (read the entire PW article at

I wish the PW writer had put it like this: "Four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed for doing their jobs responsibly and acting in accordance with constitutional principles and laws regarding free speech."

A number of organizations—the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center—all criticized the dismissals, which is terrific, but perhaps the alternative phrasing I offered might have prompted a broader swath of people to protest. 

The language we use to talk about censorship issues must be accurate and specific.  Otherwise, we engage in conversations based on terms so vague as to be almost meaningless, making it nearly impossible for people with opposing points of view to understand each other.

Also from the PW article: "[Two library] patrons accused the library of promoting “the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community” and demanded that the library add books “affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives.” After reading this, I found myself scratching my head. If Brent Hartinger's GEOGRAPHY CLUB, Stephan Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and Esther Drill’s DEAL WITH IT! A WHOLE NEW APPROACH TO YOUR BODY, BRAIN, AND LIVE AS A gURL are pushing "a gay agenda," does that mean books addressing themes about heterosexual sexuality are promoting a hetero agenda? What exactly do the accusing patrons mean when they say "gay agenda"? My understanding of the term "gay agenda" is that it has to do with ensuring that all homosexual people have equal rights under the law. Do the two patrons think that's a bad thing? Or--as I suspect--do the two patrons see the gay agenda as something insidious and threatening—such as that books addressing homosexuality will make everyone who reads them gay? Or maybe those patrons fear a gay agenda promoting tolerance of homosexual people in all settings--in churches, schools, etc. I'm still speculating here; I have no idea exactly what "gay agenda" means to the folks who initiated the book removals. But I find myself wondering, if tolerating gay people and gay-themed books is the problem, just why is tolerating them so...intolerable? I don't understand. I thought tolerance of differences among people was a good and desirable and even honorable thing.

The two patrons who initially complained back in February about the West Bend library's YA collection including books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues also demanded that the library add books "affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives." Considering that public library collections everywhere, including, I assume, West Bend's, already contain a majority of books in which the romantic and sexual interactions take place between people of opposite genders, I'm not sure what sorts of books these disgruntled patrons would like to add. It would be interesting to know. Specifically.

I wish everyone engaged in conversations about censorship and book removal would define their terms and points of view with great specificity. It's my hope--perhaps naïve, but still--that if we examine what we're really wanting and get specific about what we really object to—or fear—we might have a very different sort of conversation, a more productive sort. And we might have more people willing to stand up to improper librarian dismissals and book removals as well as violations of the First Amendment.

Which, from the point of view of those of us at As If!, would be a good thing.

Posted by Deborah Davis

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Blogger SafeLibraries® said...


Nice to meet you, I haven't written to you before.

That Publisher's Weekly article is seriously flawed as largely explained here: "Publishers Weekly Can't Get It Right."

And that letter of criticism from those major pressure groups is also seriously flawed. See my own writing on this here: "Facts Disprove ALA Statements Regarding West Bend, WI; ABFFE, NCAC, and Others Similarly Incorrect."

I ask you to keep an open mind when reading what I wrote. People should oppose censorship, but if "censorship" is being used as a political bludgeon in a case where it does not in reality exist, that only weakens efforts to oppose real censorship.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Pete said...

Thanks for all the info. More people need to be made aware of this

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9:13 AM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...

Some followup from yesterday: "West Bend City Council refuses to budge on library issue."

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Elisa said...

I agree with Pete! Thank you!

2:35 AM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...

More followup: "WI’s West Bend Library Board Says ‘No’ to Relocating YA Books," by Debra Lau Whelan, School Library Journal, 8 June 2009.

Here's a link to more West Bend library stories that I update frequently so I don't need to add more followup here.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Blogbugger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:26 AM  
Blogger rmw said...


While I couldn't agree with you more about the issue of free speech, that is not the issue here. We're talking about relocating the questionable material to a section of the library not accessible to children. What you're failing to understand here is the simple premise of how to raise children correctly. I'd be interested to know if you feel as strongly about dispensing of the "Fairness Doctrine" aimed at stifling free speech of conservative talk shows. Hmmmm?

6:51 AM  
Blogger Amira said...

I believe that teens, preteens, and children have a right to be exposed to all sorts of lifestyles. And for those that don't want their children to be homosexual: If a child isn't exposed to homosexualism, when they do find out about it they would be more likely to experiment. Books that involve homosexual behavior are no more vulgar, mature, or inaproppriate than books that involve heterosexualism.

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9:32 AM  
Blogger elfarmy17 said...

I just found this blog today-- and I'm loving it.
I think what they mean by "affirming traditional heterosexual" whatever is "books that are clearly against non-heterosexual sexuality."

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