Even library books can be censored, and it’s not a simple process
Everyone’s been to a library. It’s a place you could easily pop into and grab a book or stay inside for hours on end reading anything that grabs your attention. It has everything from graphic novels to thrilling mysteries to timeless classics. Many people will come in and ask “When will my favorite book come in?” but very few people ask “Where do these books come from?”
The books inside libraries don’t just appear one day. Specifically for school libraries, the presence of these books is the result of a process of approval and censorship, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. There’s more to it than just filling out a form and submitting it.
“Fremont Unified has a pretty strict code on what we can and cannot put in our libraries. We have lists of approved review sources,” explained Ms. DiFranco, one of American High School’s librarians. “If [a book is] not reviewed by one of these sources, we can’t put it on the shelves without having read it ourselves and getting a teacher, a community member, and our principal to sign off on it. Then it goes to the district librarian, who reviews it and decides whether or not it’s going to be allowed in our libraries.”
Based on the decision of one person, a book could be a word away from being censored. One example of this scenario occurred at Washington High School. There, two books, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and Angels in America by Tony Kushner, were submitted by an English teacher and then turned down by the FUSD School Board.
“[These books] are both highly critically acclaimed texts by well-respected authors, and the only reason they were blocked, when many other books with equally graphic or disturbing content passed, is because [the characters] are homosexual,” stated Teri Hu, the former FUSD English teacher from Washington High. “I tried to at least show the… film adaptation of Angels in America to my AP Lit class with parent permission, and the school put a stop to that, too.”
Hu had intended to use the material within the books to focus on and teach the overall lessons within them.
“They are both books with powerful, empowering messages and very faithful film adaptations, and the overwhelming literary consensus on them was and is that they’re exemplary texts,” justified Hu. “I’m hardly alone in thinking that young people would benefit from reading and viewing them.”
With censoring, students face the possibility of being kept in the dark on certain topics, resulting in a lack of exposure.
“If you’re censoring, it means you’re not giving out the whole information and you’re not allowing people to make the decision for themselves. So that, I think, is important for the reader to self-regulate [and] know where their limits are,” said Ms. DiFranco. “I think it’s important for us to be able to get all the information and process it and decide for ourselves where it belongs.”
However, that does not necessarily mean that censorship must be ended once and for all and that all books should be let into libraries. There’s a time and place for everything, even for censoring a book.
“Using it to shelter children from reality is harmful. In certain cases, it may be necessary to protect young people from actual harm, such as homophobic texts that make young gay people feel like the world will never accept them,” reasoned Hu. “It’s not that these texts can’t be taught, just that there should be careful framing of the text as out-of-date and not representative of real life.”
With these two sides of the spectrum, censorship certainly has its issues and benefits, as unintentional as some may be. Censorship does have a goal, but it’s not to cause problems or create feuds.
According to Dianne Jones, a trustee on the FUSD School Board, censorship is practiced because “we need to be sure that all course materials are aligned with state standards and are suitable for the courses where they will be used. We also must abide by Ed Code which requires materials to be free of bias, so there are some legal issues we have to consider.”
Typical questions that determine a book’s fate, as listed by Jones, are “Is the class mandatory or optional? Would the book be required reading for all students in the class or on an optional list for something like a book report? Is the class AP where the expectation is that students are ready for college-level content?” Combined with the input of Board members, books have two ways to go: they get approved, or they don’t.
Here at American, there have luckily been very few conflicts involving students and staff regarding censorship in recent years. This means that students can find almost any book they are interested in at the library for both entertainment and informational purposes.
“I think that a school has a responsibility to students to provide quality and fun reading and to be careful of the content a little bit and really watch for age-appropriateness,” concluded Ms. DiFranco. “With that, that is censoring. It really is.”
Caption: At AHS, some of the books at the library may be banned in other schools due to their material. 13 Reasons Why, for example, has raised concerns because of its topic on suicide and the concern that readers may begin to romanticize suicide. “There are so many books that have been banned throughout the years. Huckleberry Finn is one of them because of its language,” said Ms. DiFranco. “There are all kinds of stuff…We have them in our library because they have gone through the review process and are deemed informative or important. Yeah, we’ve got them. You want ‘em, I’ll find ‘em for you.”