Battle Lines Drawn in Censorship Programs

By Rosswurm, K. M. | American Libraries, July-August 1984 | Go to article overview

Battle Lines Drawn in Censorship Programs


Rosswurm, K. M., American Libraries


IF THE BATTLE OVER CENSORSHIP is to be won, the victory will be achieved in the field, not at the negotiating table--or, in this case, at a panel discussion. In an attempt to establish the battle lines, the New York Public Library sponsored three June panel discussions on the topic "Censorship and Selection in Libraries and Schools: Who Decides?" The discussions, held in conjunction with NYPL's widely publicized exhibit, "Censorship: 500 Years of Conflict," indicated the depths of that continuing struggle. They revealed that reaction to censorship is more emotional than thoughtful, with little dialogue or compromise. As a result, the issue was reduced to a power struggle based on conflicting values and political principles. Free-for-all on textbooks

The first panel, certainly the least interesting, was "Textbooks: What Should Our Children Learn?" Because there were no prepared statements and very little structure, the program verged on a free-for-all. Though there were certainly points of contention of the panel, the principal disagreement was between some teachers in the audience and the panelists over parental participation in the selection of textbooks. A number of New York -- area teachers questioned the ability of parents to evaluate texts competently.

Brooks Thomas, of Harper & Row and the Association of American Publishers, defended publishers' limited role in challenging restrictive textbook selection laws, pointing out that they must "first of all survive" as businesses and that they "could only do so much."

The most critical member of the panel, lawyer Michael Farris, made a heartfelt argument for creationism, for education as an inculcator of parental values, and against "one world government." Barbara Parker of People for the American Way took Farris to task for advocating the teaching of religion in public schools, pointedly rejecting his claim that creationism was scientific fact rather than religious faith. Porn and public libraries

Far more stimulating than the first program was the second panel, "Public Libraries: Rights in Conflict." The proceedings were dominated by the impassioned antipornography appeal of feminist. Andrea Dworkin and by the slick presentation of Moral Majoritarian Cal Thomas. Believing that the best defense is a good offense, Thomas said that he was trying to "defuse some of the negative knee-jerkism" of the right, while also "challenging and encouraging libraries" to include more materials on conservative views and values.

The two speakers verged on agreement in their opposition to pornography--Thomas as a religious conservative, Dworkin as a feminist. While championing the use of local ordinances declaring pornography a violation of women's civil rights, Dworkin encouraged librarians to collect pornography for study and research purposes. Under Dworkin's scheme, however, it would be illegal for libraries to display that "pornography," even in such censorship exhibits as NYPL's.

Barbara Rollock, coordinator of children's services for the NYPL branch librarians, and Judith Krug, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, represented the library community with distinction. Krug countered Thomas' perennial claim that public library collections have a liberal bias and Rollock gave a simple but eloquent explanation of the difference between selection and censorship. …

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