Monday, February 16, 2009

More thoughts on censorship

I'm in Mystic, CT with some of my fellow Blue Rose Girls right now, and so am cheating with my weekly post a bit by posting something I wrote on my personal blog last week:

School Library Journal has a great, thought-provoking piece on self-censorship here.

Here's an excerpt:

Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

“It’s probably fairly widespread, but we don’t have any way of really knowing, because people who self-censor are not likely to broadcast it,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children and author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library (ALA Editions, 2009). And since most people think librarians are the best champions of books, adds Scales, their jobs give them the perfect cover.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom only documents written challenges to library books and materials (there were 420 cases in 2007), and even then, it estimates that only one out of five cases are reported. But when it comes to self-censorship, it’s almost impossible to quantify because no one is monitoring it or collecting stats, and there’s no open discussion on the subject. We most often hear about it through anecdotes or if someone is willing to fess up.

“In a way, self-censorship is more frightening than outright banning and removal of challenged material,” says author and former librarian Susan Patron, because these incidents tend to “slip under the radar.”

I was especially surprised by this paragraph:

Researchers Jeff Whittingham and Wendy Rickman asked media specialists if their collections offered the most popular gay-, bisexual-, lesbian-, and transgender-themed books published between 1999 and 2005, including Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys (S & S, 2001), Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperTeen, 2003), and David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Almost always, the answer came back no.

Boy Meets Boy is one of the sweetest, most delicious YA novels out there. I can't believe that it's not shelved in most/all libraries!

In terms of censorship, I must admit that on occasion I do ask authors to replace certain words that I know teachers, parents, and librarians may object to. Two of the main culprits, aside from the obvious curse words, are "retarded" and "fag." (It actually makes me cringe just to type them.) And yes, I know kids and teens really do use those words when they speak, but personally, I wouldn't mind if they used them less. But I'll only recommend changing or deleting words depending on the usage, and depending on whether the same tone and authenticity can come across using different words. I've also often asked an author to cut down on the cussing by 50% or whatever percentage I feel is appropriate depending on the type of book it is, the intended audience, and the subject matter. But I do leave it up the author to decide. And I would never not acquire a book because of the language.

For you authors and editors, teachers, parents, and librarians out there, do you self censor?

Read my other recent post on censorship here.


Anonymous said...

...and keep in mind that teenagers, as well as teachers, parents, and librarians, may be offended by those usages of "retarded" and "fag". When I was a teenager (in the 90s) reading the word "fag" (with that usage) in a book I loved otherwise would have been really, really upsetting. I doubt many YA authors are out to hurt gay kids, so I appreciate your editor's hand there.

I wrote a post about parental control, kicked off by the same SLJ article, that you might be interested in...

gael lynch said...

I try not to censor my own work...just let it hit the page first. But when I think about it, I don't usually layer kids with different sexual orientations into my work. I do try to include more varied ethnicities now, though...which is a ton of fun! You've given me a lot to think about here, as I try to offer more of a 3D slice of life for kids that are living today. Who else am I leaving out?
On another note...I went into my principal's office the other day to borrow a professional book and I saw Lucky on her shelf. When I asked her if she liked it...she said she hadn't read it yet, that she and the librarian were talking about it!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHH. I know what that means. I didn't talk about it, b/c I want to talk to my friend, the librarian first. My principal and the librarian are both very open-minded, liberal it's making me believe the parent community is involved. I'm going to get to the bottom of it though. Lots of right wing activity happens behind the scenes. You can hear those helicopters circling our building at all times. Scary! (Sorry this post is so long, Alvina!)

MotherReader said...

I know that our very large public library system didn't buy Boy Toy in part because of the Issues. We've also shelved Sara Ryan's wonderful Empress of the World in Adult Fiction, not teen. It stinks.

In books, I have to admit that there are times that I read a teen book and wish that the author had made a more conservative choice in wording or a scene that would have given the book a broader age range. I think sometimes we get so caught up in artistic integrity, that it gets lost that a marketable product is also at stake. Let me be clear, I'm not talking about books about an issue or books intended for older teens. But for books that invite controversy or subjective classification by dropping the F-bomb when it wasn't needed or putting in something about sex that isn't important to the story being told. We have to remember that good films will change things to make sure they reach the right audience, and authors and editors should consider that as well.