Self-Censorship and the Boomerang Book

There is a book sitting on the top right corner of my desk: Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies‘ by Robie H. Harris. I love this book. It talks about what the body can do and differences between male and female bodies. Beginning with facial body parts and working up to the reproductive system, this book discusses everything in an age appropriate and interesting manner. The illustrations are fun and inclusive of all’ types’ of people. I love this book. But still, this book sits on my desk because it is sent to me at least once a month with a note attached letting me know we had a complaint about the illustrations and could I please remove it from our collection or at least move it somewhere “more appropriate.” I’ve taken to calling this book the boomerang book because each time I send this book back to its home location, it comes right back.’ 

I recently spent sometime contemplating why this particular book seems to be so offensive to my community and why each time’  this book comes to me’ it seems to take me just a little longer to send it back out. Here’ is the answer I’ve come up with:

Fear.

Perhaps my conservative community is offended by this book because it so concisely’ labels body parts considered private. I can understand that. It’s uncomfortable to answer direct or tough questions about bodies, and parents want to protect their child’s innocence. I have to remind myself that just because one parent doesn’t want a book about the body does not mean no one gets access to that information. It is my job to make sure everyone has equal access to information they seek.

Though this book has never been formally challenged, I am dreading the day it is. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been through the process or maybe it’s because I’m not sure how the process would’ turn out’ even though I believe in this book and have solid reasoning for why it belongs in’ our collection. That is my own fear to conquer. I need to conquer this fear daily because it can sneak in and nudge me toward choices I would not usually make. Some examples include not purchasing a book because you think your audience will find it objectionable, placing a book in Adult Fiction when it belongs in YA or in YA when it belongs in Juvenile collection, or placing books in the “professional collection” rather than just putting them on the shelves. I want to encourage you (and myself!)’ to trust in your policies and procedures. It is our patrons’ right to challenge materials they find objectionable. Let the process happen and trust’  that you can defend materials based on their’ individual merits. Don’t let fear lead you to make a decision to pull or keep in limbo an item that might not actually ever be challenged. Beyond that, welcome the informal challenge-esque questions (“Do you know what’s in this book?!) as an opportunity to discuss with your community why you believe in freedom of information. Please excuse me while I return Who Has What? to its proper location. Again.

Do you have any’ boomerang books?’ How do you handle it?

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One Comment

  1. Happened to me with the book Body Drama. The person who processed the book checked it out immediately. After a few months I realized I hadn’t seen it and checked and it was still out on their card (renewed and checked out again) and for over a year it bounced around between her card and her husband’s.

    I thought about saying something to the director but she was very close with the staff member, and I thought about buying another copy but I was afraid it would end up on her processing pile again. Now that I’ve been at my library much longer I would have said something about it.

    It was eventually returned – after that story came to light about the library staff member who was fired for refusing to return a graphic novel (was it a Batman book? I can’t even remember).

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