Book banning in America

Last month, the Tennessee board of education decided to pull the book ‘Maus’ from their eighth grade curriculum, citing concerns about the violence, nudity, and strong language that the book contains. The board promised to replace the book with another, more age-appropriate book about The Holocaust, but the decision still sparked much discussion online and within academic circles. Many people are concerned that this decision represents a ‘white washing’ of history, and that students ought to know about the horrors of the past, while others worry that the book is too extreme for young kids. Given the controversy, it would seem valuable to examine how FRCC treats controversial books, as well as examine how students and staff feel about the issue. 

Marcus Elmore, a librarian at FRCC Westminster said that, 

“academic libraries, including FRCC, generally do not respond to challenges to materials, except insofar as the challenge is rooted in issues of academic inquiry.  We might, for instance, consider removing a book from the collection because it represents outdated or superseded scholarship” he said.

Marcus also said, “All decisions about the library collection are made by librarians, in consultation with teaching faculty, and are guided by relevant statements issued by professional organizations”

He also cited the libraries official position on the Support of Intellectual freedom, which reads: “The FRCC library adheres to the principles of intellectual freedom outlined in the American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights”, the Association of American Colleges’ and the American Association of University Professors’ “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”, and the Association of College & Research Libraries’ “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” and “Standards for Libraries in Higher Education.”

Marcus also provided me with links to the standards that FRCC libraries follow, those being the American Library Associations “Library Bill of Rights”, the American Association of University Professors’ “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”, as well as the Association of College & Research Libraries’ “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries” and “Standards for Libraries in Higher Education”.

Books that have or are banned in the U.S.

The library does also have a formal process for dealing with academic challenges that are made to library materials. Any student or staff member can challenge materials in the collection, after which the library director will convene a committee to review the case. The decision to remove the material is ultimately left up to the library director.

Marcus also provided his personal opinion on the subject, saying “I, personally, find the removal of materials like Maus a travesty, an insult to the library professionals who develop collections for student and public use, and a dangerous provocation.” He said,  “Given that the folks pushing this agenda do not see eye to eye with me and my colleagues on issues of intellectual freedom, I doubt there can be much in the way of reasoned discussion, but I hope that parents, students, and the general public will voice support for individuals’ right to read as they see fit.”

I also talked to Victoria West-Paul, the library director. She told me that “We are not going to ban books just because someone finds a book like Maus offensive.” She provided a quote from the American Library Association’s code of ethics:

“In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.”

She told me that she even keeps a copy of the ethics code in her wallet. It seems, then, rather unsurprisingly perhaps, that the library is rather unified against the removal of books from curricula, and certainly will not be removing controversial books from the library any time soon.

I wanted to get the perspective of students on this issue, so I spoke to Amelia Palmer, a student at FRCC Westminster, who said, “I think it is very Ray Bradbury esque, it is reminiscent of nazi book burnings which is horiffically ironic considering it’s the kind of shit the banned book is warning us about!”

Another student, who preferred not to be named, told me, “[schools] should not go around traumatizing five year olds, but kids shouldn’t be shielded from this either, because it happened” she she said, “I could see how, since it’s illustrated, it might not be good for kids” … “but since [the students] are teens, I still think it’s age appropriate” … ”I think that it’s very important to learn about things like the Holocaust more than ever, since there’s been some scary neo-nazi stuff popping up lately”

It seems as though much of the student and faculty at FRCC takes issue with the removal of Maus from the curriculum in Tennessee, and that nothing similar will be happening at FRCC any time soon. While some of the people I spoke to share concerns about whether or not the book is age appropriate, ultimately they all believe that challenging material that might make some students uncomfortable is an important part of teaching kids history.

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