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October 6, 2008

hang-ups over banning books

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 10:55 am

A planned quick mea culpa over forgetting to post about this year’s Banned Books Week — September 27 to October 4, 2008 — was complicated yesterday, when I saw an editorial in the Schenectady Sunday Gazette headlined “No good reason to pull library book in Galway” (October 5, 2008). (see our 2007 BBW post last year)

Referring to a story published October 3rd by the Gazette, the Editors explained that the trustees of the Galway Public Library (in the Saratoga County Town of Galway, New York, which has a population under 4000 and is located about 12 miles north of Schenectady), have at least temporarily pulled from its shelves the book Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out: stuff you need to know about your body, sex, and dating” (Health Communications, by Melisa Holmes, M.D. and Trish Hutchison, M.D., 2008). Hang-Ups is part of the Girlology series of books aimed at pre-teen and teenage girls.  The Gazette editorial starts:

“Maybe Galway Public Library officials deserve some benefit of the doubt for agreeing to temporarily remove from their shelves a popular book on teen sexuality that a patron complained about, citing “factual errors, philosophy and perceived bias.” But not a whole lot, frankly — and none if they don’t hurry up and put the book back, where it belongs.

“It’s one thing to forbid your child to read a book you don’t like or agree with, or to bring it into your home; it’s entirely another to try to impose such a judgment or moral standard on the public — especially in a library, whose function is to make as much information, including opinion, on as many subjects as available as possible.”

The editorial makes other important points, including:

  • “Even if the book in question — “Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out: Stuff You Need to Know About Your Body, Sex & Dating” — did contain factual errors, removing it from circulation hardly seems like the proper response. Lots of books, including many good ones, have mistakes in them.”
  • “Then there’s this: What constitutes a mistake can be a matter of opinion; who decides? And where does one draw the line as to which mistakes are tolerable and which are not?”

Like a large proportion of all books that targeted for removal from libraries and schools, Hang-Ups deals with teen sexuality.  The Gazette notes that “Teen sexuality, and how to teach about sex to one’s children, is a highly personal and — for some parents — ideological issue that shouldn’t be decided by one member of a community, or even a committee.”  The editorial correctly asserts that:

“If parents have reservations about the methods advocated by a particular author (in this case, two women doctors with teen children), they should instruct or even order their children to steer clear. But it shouldn’t be their decision to make for the rest of the community.”

The Gazette news article about the controversy in Galway reported:

“[Library Director Ashley] Poulin said a copy of the book was delivered to Dr. Anneke Pribis at the Galway Family Health clinic. ‘We’ve asked Dr. Pribis to read the book to see if it is medically accurate,’ Poulin said. ‘We haven’t heard back from Anneke yet’.”

Dr. Pribis, a family practitioner in Galway, has been asked to pass judgment on a book written by a two well-known experts on subjects related to juvenile gynecology and teenage sexuality (find more info on the authors here).  I haven’t been able to find information online about the complaining parent/patron, Patti Venditti, but I would not be surprised to learn that her concerns have more to do with its “philosophy and perceived bias” than with the inaccuracy of any medical information provided in Hang-Ups. (Ms. Venditti is invited to tell us more about her concerns by leaving a Comment below.)

My quick online research about Hang-Ups uncovered only positive reviews of the book.  For example, seven parents reviewed the book at The Parent Bloggers Network, and the post summarizing the reviews says:

“The consensus among the bloggers who reviewed Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out is that we all wish we’d had this book when we were growing up.

And this blogger summed it up beautifully:

“Is this book for you? If you’re a teenage girl? Yes. If you’re the mother, father, friend, teacher, or confidant of a teenage girl? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.“

Hang-Ups also got a rave positive review by a parent at the Scrutiny by the Masses weblog.

My concern is with the willingness of the Library trustees in Galway to pull the book pending their final determination. One trustee told the Gazette that this is the first time they’ve had such a complaint in the history of the Galway Public Library, which was founded in 1998.  It’s clear the trustees either have, or were aware of, no procedure for handling a request that a book be removed from the Library. This is the full treatment of Ms. Venditti’s complaint from the August 2008 Minutes of the Library Board of Directors (Aug. 6, 2008):

Public Comment:  Patti Venditti, a Galway library patron and mother, brought up concerns about a book in the library’s collection, Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out, due to factual errors, philosophy and perceived bias. Ashley [Poulin, Library Director] will provide Patti with a form to fill out for possible culling of the book.  Arlene [Rhodes] moved and Laura [Sakala] seconded that the book be removed from circulation pending determination.  The motion carried.  Patti will be taking the book home with her for use in completing the form.

Yes, that’s right: On the basis one person’s concerns, a popular and much-praised book was taken from the Galway Library shelves “for possible culling” (and handed over to the complainant to help her write up her complaints).  This seems a far cry from the American Library Association’s policy on Free Access to Libraries for Minors (June 30 1972), which the NYS Public Library Department recommends for adoption by all public libraries in this State.

good-news update (October 10, 2008): In an email to me this afternoon, Ashley Poulin, Director of the Galway Library informs me that “The review has been completed and the determination was made to keep [Hang-Ups] on the shelf.”

update (October 15, 2008): The Schenectady Gazette reports today that “Controversial teen book back on shelves at Galway library” (by Kathy Bowen, Oct. 15, 2008). Oddly, Joanna Lasher, President of the Library Board of Trustees, now says the book was never actually taken out of circulation. “It was not out of circulation; it was being reviewed and was still part of the collection,” Lasher said.  I just checked the Board’s August 2008 Minutes, and it still says “Arlene [Rhodes] moved and Laura [Sakala] seconded that the book be removed from circulation pending determination.  The motion carried.”  If the Board is a little squeamish about having over-reacted, that bodes well for the future.

Here are two pertinent excerpts from the ALA policy on access for minors:

  1. “Restrictions are often initiated under the assumption that certain materials are ‘harmful’ to minors, or in an effort to avoid controversy with parents who might think so. The librarian who would restrict the access of minors to materials and services because of actual or suspected parental objection should bear in mind that he is not in loco parentis in his position as librarian. Individual intellectual levels and family backgrounds are significant factors not accommodated by a uniform policy based upon age.”
  2. “The American Library Association holds that it is the parent-and only the parent-who may restrict his children and only his children-from access to library materials and services. The parent who would rather his child did not have access to certain materials should so advise the child.”

By the Way: The online catalog for our regional Library System shows that the Schenectady County Public Library has 3 copies of Girology’s Hang-Ups book; and that Galway Public Library’s single copy is “Out (due: 10/15/08).”

It’s difficult to image any valid reason for keeping Hang-Ups off the shelves at the Galway Public Library, or any other public or school library.  This incident a few miles down the road demonstrates the continued need to celebrate Banned Books Week — to educate the public and public servants about both the importance of free speech (and access to information) and the responsibility of parents to monitor what their children read (as opposed to asking their librarians to act in loco parentis).

At the Banned Books Week website, you’ll find information about books and authors have been most challenged in recent years, along with quite a few ideas about how you can help protect free speech and access (e.g., visiting the linked pro-censorship sites is an eye-opening experience).

The ALA and other sponsors of BBW want you to know that:

“More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.”

– some of the many acclaimed books targeted for banishment in the past two decades –

The Top Ten Challenged Authors from 1990 – 2004 were:

1. Alvin Schwartz  2. Judy Blume  3. Robert Cormier 4. J.K. Rowling 5. Michael Willhoite
6. Katherine Paterson 7. Stephen King 8. Maya Angelou 9. R.L. Stine 10. John Steinbeck

Please don’t let the passing of Banned Books Week keep you from getting involved.  The Galway Public Library expects to issue its judgment on Hang Ups in November, and similar decisions are made year-round in hundreds of communities, of all sizes, across the nation.

The f/k/a Gang has run out of time for posting today.  Rather than dig up new haiku and senryu, here are some of the poems we found for our post about BBW 2007, which featured the book “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” (Candlewick 2005), by Carolyn Mackler (which was high on the list of challenged books in 2006, due to its sexual content, offensive language, and purported purported anti-family message and age group unsuitability):

after school meeting
collage clouds turn
round and round

big enough
to pedal home on
winter moon

……………………… by Matt Morden – from Morden Haiku

family picnic
the new wife’s rump
bigger than mine

earth tremor
the teapot sings

…… by Roberta Beary – from The Unworn Necklace (Snapshots Press, 2007; order); “family picnic” – Modern Haiku (favorite senryu award, 2003)

p.s. Free speech is just as important auf Deutsch.  In this week’s Blawg Review #180 we’re reminded that the White House has declared today to be German-American Heritage DayLaw Pundit Andis Kaulis presents many interesting facts for those who only think of Bier und Oktober Fest this time of year, including the surprise (to many of us) that “German Americans make up the largest acknowledged ancestry group in America, even larger than the Irish and the English.”  Thanks to Andis for including our post on Ladies’ Nights in his list of notable recent blawg postings.

Speaking of libraries, laws, and access to information, check out Laura Orr’s important piece at Oregon Legal Research, “Let’s Kill All the Law Libraries” (Oct. 3, 2008)


  1. i’m a fan of the idea of addressing seemingly problematic information with more information. if there are claims of factual errors in a book, then those claims should be vetted and any errors addressed, and perhaps posted on the book’s cover. but the book should not be repressed.

    Comment by kouji | haiku — October 6, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Hi, Kouji. Thanks for sharing your customary common sense. With the existence of the web, any actual errors can readily be posted online at the publisher’s website and elsewhere by concerned members of the public.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 6, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

  3. This is rapidly becoming the type of scary country we’ve all seen on the big screen.

    Comment by Jen — October 6, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  4. “Dr. Pribis, a family practitioner in Galway, has been asked to pass judgment on a book written by a two well-known experts on subjects related to juvenile gynecology and teenage sexuality (find more info on the authors here).”

    This community is seeking input from members of its own community. But the community is ridiculed for doing so. Who needs Dr. Pribis when you can consult people from outside your community.

    What’s most sad about this is the double standard that is so effective that it is not even noticed. For example, the deputy director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom wrote that libraries should not use movie ratings as guides since those ratings were made by people outside the community. Yet here, Galway is criticized for seeking input from the community and not blindly accepting the two outside doctors. What a double standard.

    And Banned Books Week itself is “shameless propaganda,” according to some.

    Regarding the ALA’s policies on children being cited as if they those policies the law, the author fails to disclose the US Supreme Court said in US v. ALA, a case the ALA lost and lost big, “The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree.” Apparently, neither the ALA nor this blog author agrees.

    So you got someone cleverly using a double standard, promoting propaganda, and espousing the application of ALA policy that is in apparent defiance of the law. All this from someone at Harvard, no less.

    “The … elites have convinced themselves that they are taking a stand against cultural tyranny. …. [T]he reality is that it is those who cry ‘Censorship!’ the loudest who are the ones trying to stifle speech and force their moral world-view on others.” By Dan Gerstein, an independent consultant, former communications director for Joe Lieberman and a senior strategist for his presidential campaign.

    Comment by Dan Kleinman — October 7, 2008 @ 9:25 am

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment at length, Dan. Just a few quick responses from me:

    1) I have a very big problem with yanking the book before the local review;
    2) Even if the book somehow has some true medical mistakes, it is hard to imagine (given the credentials of the authors) that they would warrant banning it from the Library; which other books with errors in them should be banned?
    3) You might be confusing having the power to remove a book under Supreme Court cases with whether removing them makes good policy or good sense. There are many rights or values that deserve to be honored even if there might be a legal basis for violating or infringing on them.
    4) While I’m not one who believes “elite” is a four-letter word, I have often complained about those on both the left and the right trying to imposed their perspectives on the entire society.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 7, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  6. David,
    1) I agree it is unusual to remove it until it is approved instead of leaving it in until it is disapproved.
    2) I agree it is unusual for a book to be removed based on errors. Being error-free is not a requirement, else the shelves might be bare.
    3) I agree what you said is a reasonable statement.
    4) I agree with this statement of yours as well.

    Thanks, David.

    Comment by Dan Kleinman — October 7, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  7. Thanks for being so “agreeable,” Dan. Of course, that is not a requirement for our comment section. Basic manners are enough.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 7, 2008 @ 11:17 am

  8. I agre…. Oh, never mind. ;-)

    Comment by Dan Kleinman — October 7, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

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