Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide - Vol. 1

By Joseph W. Slade | Go to book overview

7
Major Research Collections (and the Problems of the Librarian)

LIBRARIES AND PORNOGRAPHY

Pornography causes special problems for librarians, who face criticism from conservatives and fundamentalists if they preserve erotic material on their shelves and criticism from liberals and scholars if they do not. Libraries have been targets of zealots for most of their history, as anyone familiar with the story of the great ancient library at Alexandria, whose manuscripts were victims of both war and religious fanaticism, will surely know. Librarians in the United States spend a good deal of time each year fighting off would-be censors incensed by the presence of works like Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or Twain's Huckleberry Finn, not to mention marginal and sexually explicit works that offend one group or another. Typical of annual surveys is “Censorship Rose 35 Percent over Previous Year, Study Finds,” in which Madalynne Reuter and Marianne Yen report that one-third of all censorship attempts each year involve library and/or educational materials. The best single guide is Herbert N. Foerstel's Banned in the U.S.A.: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries, which begins with the 1970s, recounts the more acrimonious battles, and lists the books most often censored now.

Because of the constant threat of harassment by social and political groups, public libraries generally establish policies of caution. Academic libraries at state universities are generally more reticent than those operated by private universities and colleges. The principal question is, Should materials that some—or, for that matter, all—citizens consider objectionable be kept at all? People who work with books usually argue in the affirmative on the grounds that tastes change, that marginal expression deserves preservation, that pornography when it is fresh represents a challenge to the status quo and is thus doubly in need of

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