FTRW 2010 – Running Back To Saskatoon

I thought somebody (the CLA Committee on Intellectual Freedom?) released an annual report on book challenges during the past year.  I wasn't able to find it but the official site for Freedom to Read does have a list highlighting 100 different books that have been challenged in the past decade. 

One entry in particular caught my attention:

Pritchard, Jimmy. The New York City Bartender’s Joke Book.
2004—A library patron complained to the Saskatoon Public Library about this book- length collection of jokes that the author had heard while working in bars.

Cause of objection—The complainant said that the jokes were in poor taste and promoted negative attitudes toward women and ethnic minorities.

Update—The library’s Challenged Materials Committee later agreed that the book was “racist, sexist, and demeaning to women and citizens of many countries.” The book also failed to meet the library’s collection development standards. The committee withdrew the book from circulation.

Although this is from six years ago, seeing that a library in my home province would remove a book from their collection really bugs me.  Why?  Well, here's a dirty little secret – the book loving, BA – English librarian you see before you didn't always read Hemingway and Faulkner (who am I kidding?  I still don't – just for a few years there as an undergrad so I'd look smart in coffee shops!)

Like many teenaged boys, there was a time in my young life when a lot of my pleasure reading consisted of things that weren't very literary in nature – the latest Calvin & Hobbes cartoon collection.  Rock star biographies.  And yes, occasionally, I would take out a book that would be the 1985 equivalent of “The New York Bartender's Joke Book”. 

But you know what?  That's part of the reason I would go to the library even at a time when it wasn't “cool”.  I don't remember saying this exactly but if a friend called me a nerd for going to the library, I could show them the joke book.  “Really?  You got that?  At the library?  Lemme see that!”

After all, isn't this one of the single biggest hand-wringers in public libraries today?  “How do we get teenaged boys to come to the library?”  Offensive joke books aren't the full answer.  But they're part of it if you're truly committed to serving *all* of your users – which most public libraries claim to be.
Even though I read such a “harmful” book in my formative years, I'm glad no one at Regina Public Library or Indian Head Public Library had to decide whether this book was appropriate for me or not and that decision was mine to make alone. 
like to think that I don't have negative attitudes towards women or
minorities because I read books like this, just like I don't want to start a war because I read “Rambo: First Blood”.  (I will cop to having bad taste on occasion – that's nothing to do with my reading choices though!)

The other reason this bugs me is that it hits a lot closer to home than it did, even a few years ago.  Under the new province-wide SILS consortium, every library system has worked very hard to come up with a common set of policies.  Each system
still retains the right to develop its own internal policies in regards
to things like collection development, intellectual freedom and so on so the common policies are
mostly in regards to how items circulate, fine tables, patron registration and things like that. 

So if it doesn't directly affect me at RPL or in my day-to-day work, why get so worked up?  Well, for one thing, there's always a danger that this could be the start of the proverbial slippery slope.  The next time a book gets challenged in Saskatoon, it'll be harder for someone there to say “no”.  And it might be harder in Regina too – especially if we're partners in SILS.  “My sister, Alice Tinhat Jones, got a joke book with the 'n' word in it removed from Saskatoon Public Library.  I'd like this one removed as well.”  Uhm, madame, that's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  “I don't care.  You're partners with SPL aren't you?”)

To be frank, I also don't like that this decision has both tinges of both imposed morality AND political correctness – both extremes of the censorship spectrum.  As I point out in one of my all-time favourite posts, “What Freedom To Read Is *Not*“:

Freedom to Read is not a “left” or a “right” issue (I think people
often believe that only people holding the opposite opinion of their
own want to ban books.)  Challenges come from both ends of the
political spectrum and are just as likely to come on grounds of
political correctness from someone on the left as on they are on
morality grounds from someone on the right.

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