Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned material in the St Paul Libraries?

This week throughout the USA libraries are celebrating: Banned Book Week Celebrating the Freedom to Read.  If you go to many of the local libraries you may see a display of books on a table with paper wrapped around it saying banned.

In St Paul, there have been attempts in the library system to keep you from having access to materials.  This can be done in many ways.  The approach that most people do and use is by approaching library staff and complaining about material that they may have read or see on display.  A formal approach is to ask for "reconsideration"

The staff when they hear about challenges to materials which can include movies, books, even Cd's seem to not just "let it go" but take it seriously and discuss it with their colleagues.

I did several data practice requests with libraries to see what challenges/requests on materials they received over the past two years.  The St Paul Library System are the following:

(1) The Human Centipede, DVD
The patron stated the the "film is irrelevent, disgusting, indecent and totally without any
beneficial value to anyone."

(2) Miracles Every Day, Book
The customer objected to the book because it "develops into "selling" faith healing.  The objector of the material stated after researching the book on Google there were "accounts of various people who felt they'd for a scam" because they had to pay dollars to see the author.

(3) Quien ha visto mi orinal?/Who has seen my potty?, Book
The book is basically a toliet training book.  The objections were the use of the words "caca" and"culito."  The patron felt the words were not appropriate for little children.  Other than the previous two examples of possible banned material, this objection brought some discussion among the library staff.

What "caca" and "culito" meant was part of the conversation.  One perspective is that "caca" is "roughly equivalent to poop or crap." a library staff stated.  The staff person went on to say, "the" word "culito" which is a diminutive form of "culo," a word for a person's posterior that is a little stronger than "butt" but not as strong as "ass."  There was also discussion that regional variations of the language and dialect can play a role of emphasis and meaning of words.

(4) The Ranma 1/2, Teen Graphic Novel Series
Since it being a series of books there may be certain volumes that could be more objectionable than others.  The library user showed the library staff that there was "some nudity" in some of the material.  The staff was told by the man that some other library "removed" the book from the teen section and moved to the "adult" section.  Discussion took place between the librarian who stated that "reputable literary sources said it was appropriate for teens".

(5) The Birth of a Nation, DVD D.W. Griffith's well known movie has been the brunt of censorship discussion since the film was released in 1915.  This objection was a formal request for reconsideration by the user of the St Paul Public Library.  The objector stated everything in the movie is objectionable "particularly the way that Black people are depicted."  The person had viewed the entire film and further stated "even if it was made in 1915-it is even more deplorable today as it was then."

This "formal" reconsideration of material created the most buzz among the library staff.  There was a memo outlining reasons why to keep "Birth of a Nation":

"There's a fair amount of rhetoric about movies being a "universal language". D. W. Griffith more or-less invented that language, and Birth of a Nation is his most iconic work. Virtually every film history/theory class in every college in the country starts with Lumiere, Edison and Griffith. Those few that don't show Birth of a Nation are making a conscious effort to avoid the controversy and instead select a different Griffith film.

There are 129 different DVD records for Birth of a Nation in OCLC (it's now in the public domain, so any publisher can put out an edition). Records 1-10 alone account for 2290 libraries. If we were to remove it, we might actually be the only library in the country that carries DVDs not to own Birth of a Nation.

It was ranked #44 on the American Film Institutes 100 Years... 100 Movies list when initially released in 1998. It was not on the list when re-issued in 2007, no doubt because AFI was on the receiving end of some controversy. It was replaced at #49 by Griffith's Intolerance (his "apology" for the ideology in Birth). Both films were the only representative from before 1920 on their respective lists.

A quick survey of "Most Important (or Influential) Films" lists shows Birth or some less controversial Griffith stand-in on each one. TCM listed Birth among its 15 Most Influential Films of All Time. 

 Our copies of Birth of a Nation have been checked out 376 times.

 Yes, it contains things that are ideologically objectionable. I object to them. The KKK are represented heroically. Even though ideologically I agree with the complaints, I think that removing it would be counter-productive on those very grounds. I think lots of important historical artifacts - books, movies, whatever - have elements that we find offensive today, and yet if we have them available we can learn from them and think about them, whereas removing them represents a great whitewashing of history, creating a far more ideologically damaging present."

None of the material I wrote about were banned or censored from the St Paul Library System.  The staff it seems after reviewing the documents I got took patron's concerns seriously and acted upon them in due diligence.

Just another point:  Who are the selectors of materials at libraries and how do they choose what materials we get to see, watch, and hear?  Is that censorship?  Just wondering?  Another post maybe.

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