Saturday, August 16, 2008

Uncle Bobby's Wedding redux

This is not the longer posting (see here for that). But our library received yet another challenge to "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," apparently based on my earlier response.

First, this new patron stated her belief that the topic of a gay wedding is inappropriate because same sex marriage is illegal in 48 states, and specifically, in Colorado. Second, she claimed that she knows at least 100 people ready to fill out a petition against the book.

In response to the first point, I pointed out that we don't know where "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" takes place -- it could be in California or Massachusetts. It could be in Canada. It could be in a wholly fictitious universe with its own laws. Nonetheless, I wrote, "This principle would seem to require librarians to be familiar with all Colorado laws, and to read each work we purchase, or consider purchasing, to determine whether any of the characters might violate those laws [no matter where or when they live]. Thousands and thousands of our books feature true or fictional tales of murder, robbery, kidnapping – all of which violate Colorado laws. Under this principle, there could be no books in the library in which characters escape from one country to enter another illegally – not even in [or from, which is what I meant] Nazi Germany – because that would violate Colorado immigration laws. The story of Robin Hood, in which a thief and robber is regarded as a hero, would also be forbidden." I concluded that the principle, in general, would be impossible for libraries to apply.

In response to the second, I offered to meet with the group of 100 people who share her perspective. I wrote, "To your mind, I suspect, the issue is about advocacy for a perspective you oppose. To mine, it's about the role of the public library as common and neutral ground, as a steward of public funds to represent all of the public. It's a fair topic, and certainly deserving of community discussion."

Alternatively, there are two other options: appeal my decision to the Board, or fill out the petition, give me a contact person, and I could respond to that person based on the arguments it presented.

I don't know yet where it goes from here. But it seems clear that this is an organized effort, and that my last response has been shared. I wanted to record the argument used, however, and my response to it.

13 comments:

Mary Witzl said...

You are fighting the good fight and I have a lot of respect for your position. You make some excellent arguments and I hope that the people who complain about this book will seriously consider what you have written here. I would like to think that there are even more people who will defend this book and, more importantly, the right of free speech. Let's hope they too are organized. If I lived in Colorado, I would be happy to join them.

Jamie said...

Thanks, Mary. I wish you did live here. But I also suspect that when the issue gets down to the core -- "can a library be permitted to carry minority viewpoints" -- even the majority will say "yes."

deannaroy said...

You keep fighting the good fight. It's an excellent book, and it's on the front line of change.

You hang in there. You're doing great, answering with thought and care, and I'm proud of you.

Agyw said...

Librarians are among our true unsung heroes. From the librarian evicted from a public town hall with presidential candidate John McCain, to the vanguard of those who would preserve divergent views and values in our society. This is not only a fundamental question for our Democracy, but THE question for our Democracy. When we include and exclude, as all humans do, what is the criteria. Jamie your voice, reasoning and actions are admirable in my book and IS what America is about. Thank you for being so eloquent and responsive.

Caramida said...

Jamie, thank you for persisting in this good work. Your thoughtful and care-ful handling of the situation on behalf of your charge is a credit to the library profession. I am glad to be reminded that there are librarians of such caliber safeguarding basic freedom to read.

Kieran said...

Thank you. I find that articulate and well-written responses are a rare commodity (and you certainly have it nailed!) When I read your first response to the first challenger of this book, I thought, "He is a good librarian doing his job...doing his job very well." When I read this redux post I thought, "He is a good ally." So I thank you as a librarian and as a transgendered person whose very unorthodox family looks to find books at the public library that represent our family. Sometimes it is hard to take a stand, any stand, regardless of whether it is for reasons of freedom, justice and liberty or not. Anyway, I appreciate you. I appreciate your deft handling of these things. When I catalog things I disagree with for the library, I always say to myself something about the right of free speech. When there are challenges to items that represent things that I am, honestly, before I get angry even, I first become fearful, afraid. (Which doesn't make it easy to be calm and slow in my response, but I try.) Your clear response will help me in the future make a calm and adequate reply to challenges (yeah I will probably plagiarize you to some degree). Thanks again.

Jamie said...

Thanks for the support, all. And Kieran, based on your own blog, it strikes me that you're a pretty brave soul yourself. Plagiarize away!

Thogek said...

Wonderful responses, both. I'm sure I don't have to say this, but please do keep up the pure and simple defense of *everyone's* right to express and discover (and disagree with) viewpoints of all sorts. I continue to lament the growing (and utterly UN-American) viewpoint that the moral compass of a few, or even of a majority, should be legislated into state or national mandates, squashing others whose viewpoints or moral compasses might happen to differ.

No one should have the right to dictate what others may express or hear. The United States government and constitution was, as you point out, created in part to *protect* its citizens from such oppression, not to promote it.

Kristen said...

I took my 4 year old and my 1 year old to the library today, as we do every week. My 4 year old gets to choose 10 books. I look at each book, first reading the preface, then checking to make sure there are enough words and pictures for her age.

I found the description of the book to be very misleading. Jamie is a gender neutral name and I am sure the author knew this.

I did not realize what the book was about until about the 10th page...or the page that states Chloe would have two uncles. We are a Christian family but also understand we cannot shelter our children. This is a topic they will have to face and fully plan on teaching them about it, but want to explain it ourselves, or at least be given the opportunity to choose the book that best suits our family when the time comes.

This was a book that was within reach of my 4 year old, in the childrens picture book section with no description of it being about homosexuality and I feel that is wrong. Why did the author feel she needed to be deceptive?

I don't think the book should be removed...there are families where this lifestyle is acceptable and their children need outlets as well...but why can't it be in a separate section? For both parties benefits...or clearly labeled so the parent at least has a fair shot at getting what he or she feels is an acceptable book for their child, without having to read it word for word before checking it out.

Jamie said...

Kristen, thanks for leaving a comment. Thanks, too, for saying that you don't think it needs to be removed.

You know, I think we have just five picture books titles in our entire 700,000+ collection in which there is any mention of homosexuality at all. It's hard to make a section out of five books! And even if we broaden that to say "everything that might be controversial," then I have to report that after working over a quarter of a century, I've learned that that means virtually every book we've got.

As I noted in my longer posting about the subject, the real point of the book isn't about gay marriage. It's about Chloe (the young girl guinea pig) being afraid of losing her favorite uncle to another relationship. Yes, it does present the gay marriage as just a background issue, but that just means the author sees it that way, too. Lots of children's authors write books to present a perspective they wish they'd encountered when they were young.

At any rate, thanks for taking your daughter to the library, and caring about what she reads.

~M said...

As an active member of the Arapahoe County and Littleton Public libraries, something tells me I need to visit yours.

Thank you for fighting the good fight.

YiPing said...

Thanks for sharing the case and responds. I am a library school student and I found your posts are very good examples for discussing about Intellectural Freedom, and I am having your posts as the discussion and example of providing the freedom of reading and information access for minors at Library.

kathleen duey said...

Jamie, thanks so much for posting all of this. Your measured, smart, realistic answers to this challenge will inform my next encounter with a book-banner. Why can't librarians rule the world? Things would be SO much better.