The Offensive Third

While in graduate school, I once saw a movie (based on a book, of course!) called The Name of the Rose starring Christian Slater and Sean Connery. Set in Europe in the 14th century, it is the story of two Benedictine monks during the Inquisition who are sent to a monastery to investigate a series of deaths. They discover that the murders are a result of the protection of the monastery’s famous library, which contained a wealth of information on a plethora of subjects.

The collection was guarded at all costs, and the freedom to view the books was limited only to the highest-ranking monk. By controlling access to information, he wielded great power and control.

Cut to present day…

With regard to collection development in libraries, the rule of thumb is that at least a third of your collection should offend you. It is said that if you don’t have a problem with at least 30% of the materials in the library you are managing, you aren’t doing your job. For example, librarians who are card-carrying members of the ACLU should include books about Focus on the Family, an organization notorious for supporting the pro-life movement.

In theory, this seems unquestionable; however, putting theory to practice can be quite difficult when the librarian whose spouse committed suicide struggles with ordering Fixin' To Die: A Compassionate Guide to Committing Suicide or Staying Alive by David Lester. (See review at www.amazon.com.)

Librarians do possess a certain level of power and control because we are gatekeepers of the information to which people have access. When we refrain from selecting certain materials (i.e., those that could be used by readers to harm themselves or others), are we abusing our positions, or are we being responsible citizens?

Another question: should you be the parents of young children in whom you are seeking to instill certain faith-based ideals, would you object to your child having access to books about the practice of witchcraft? (Harry Potter fans, lay off…I’m one of you! Not talking about works of fiction here.)


  1. In America, we are made up of people whom all have different beliefs and are all convinced they are right. I know this because I am one of those people who are right (well, 99% of the time). With your job as a librarian you are required to give the public an opportunity to read and research what they want to. You gave a great example of how controlling information controls people. Another example of that is Hitler in Nazi Germany. I am not worried about that happening in America anytime soon though, we are pretty much the polar opposite of that

  2. The dilemma is: provide all sorts of information and place responsibility solely on the reader OR "censor" materials in the selection process in order to protect others (in this case, children).
    Hitler did say in the beginnings of his rise to power that "to control the textbooks is to control the people." Interesting, very interesting.

  3. I personally think you should censor based on maturity levels. If a student isn't old enough to make rational decisions or know what he is getting himself into, i.e. elementary level kids, I wouldn't allow them the option of reading a book on witchcraft. On the other hand, a teenager, while I agree that they shouldn't be reading books on witchcraft, is old enough to read information and decide for himself what to do with it. Elementary kids, for the most part, rely on their parents and unfortunetly some parents are worthless. So in your library, yes I think you should censor. But at my school, the librarian should not (although, I know that she does).

  4. The standard for what to censor alters from one culture to another. In the typical (we all know there is such) Christian community, certain values are cherished and are not with which to be tampered. But what about the typical Muslim culture?
    As a librarian, I use my "power" (*see original post) to influence my students in what I consider to be a positive manner...but a Jewish family probably wouldn't be pleased with the fact that I have 25 NIV Bibles on the shelf-all with AR tests to accompany the individual books held within. What about a Muslim or a Hindu librarian, or what about a librarian who is an active participant in wicca? Should he or she have the same liberties as me in regards to collection development?


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