The American Library Association (ALA) has released its annual survey of offenses to "intellectual freedom," the books whose place in public schools and public libraries is the most "challenged" by the public. Leading that list for the second straight year is the children's book "And Tango Makes Three," about a penguin family with two daddies.
Several books on the ALA list are perennially controversial, from "Huckleberry Finn" with its racial issues to Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" with its rape scenes. Some controversial tomes are newer, like atheist Philip Pullman's anti-God "The Golden Compass."
Overall, the ALA reported the number of library challenges dropped from 546 in 2006 to 420 last year, well below the mid-1990s, when complaints topped 750. But oddly, the ALA also acknowledged that its data collection is terrible: For every "challenge" listed, about four to five "go unreported."
It is quite apparent who the ALA believes to be the heroes and villains of this struggle. There are the avatars of intellectual freedom, the brave souls who champion open-mindedness, and then there are the censorious busybodies. Some have made the obvious point that challenging libraries to provide titles they're not stocking would turn the tables and make people realize that librarians can also be censorious in the titles they choose not to display. The mere act of selecting some books and excluding others is a "censorious" act.
Press accounts leave out that the ALA not only disdains the public "challenges," it lobbies on the books' behalf. In 2006, the two-penguin-daddy "And Tango Makes Three" was honored as an ALA Notable Children's Book. The librarians' group isn't simply for "freedom." It's for sexual liberation, promoting the "non-traditional," and it takes offense at the idea that parents might not want their children discussing homosexuality in kindergarten. Simon & Schuster, the publishers of "Tango," offer discussion questions about the book on their website. One says: "Tango has two fathers instead of the traditional mother and father. Do you have a nontraditional family, or do you know someone who does?"
Already we can predict how the ALA next year will complain about any objection to a book called "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," the story of a young guinea pig who worries that her Uncle Bobby won't play with her anymore after he "marries" his boyfriend Jamie. The book ends at the "wedding," with Chloe as the enthusiastic flower girl.
In other words, the ALA doesn't favor open discussion and debate with parents -- which is what the "challenges" represent. Its idea of "freedom" is emboldening librarians to be brave enough to indoctrinate children with what they really need to know, whether their parents object or even know about it. If public debate follows, it's viewed as a distasteful and unfortunate bump on the road to enlightenment.
In fact, this year the ALA has created a "Rainbow List" of books, a bibliography of current books for children "from birth through age 18 dealing with the myriad of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning issues."
The librarians of the ALA's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table have expressed frustration in not finding enough "rainbow" books on the shelves meeting the "vital need" for "quality books ... that validate same-gender lifestyles." And then, in their lobbying crusade, the anti-censorship folks display their own censorious stripes:
They only want to allow titles such as "Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia." Intellectual freedom is certainly not an ALA priority if the lobbying librarians themselves worry out loud about "the promotion of inappropriate titles."
ALA and its gay roundtable of political correctness promote a document calling for the exclusion of negative stereotypes: "In our homophobic society any work dealing with a gay theme is prone to include cliches and preconceptions of 'gay character.' It would be excellent to have a reviewer who is proudly self-identified as gay examine relevant books to point out negative stereotypic attitudes when they occur and to make suggestions as to how the librarian can best counteract such stereotypes."
Doesn't this sound like librarians want to appoint a guardian to screen out and counteract "negative stereotypic attitudes"? In other words, an official censor?