Although I am a bonafide English teacher, I remain a librarian at heart and keep an invested interest in matters of school and public libraries. This month’s School Library Journal ran an article on how the #metoo movement has affected the juvenile literature world with the news of authors Jay Asher, James Dashner, and Sherman Alexie’s admissions and accusations. One result of these disclosures is for many librarians to contemplate whether the books of these authors should be pulled from shelves. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill picture book series is part of this conversation.
Banning, censoring–controversial terms that create a myriad of reactions. When books or the authors of books come into question, often the reaction is to pull, box up, and cleanse in the name of protecting young minds and upholding values. This is can become problematic.
At the public library level the response I usually observed was to ride the tide–if patrons objected to the material they had the option of not checking it out. Simple and neat. As one librarian noted: considering Hitler’s atrocities against humans should Mein Kampf remain on the shelf? If you don’t want to read hi as book, then don’t.
Somehow this philosophy of ignore and move on changes when it comes to material found on school library shelves. Social commentary and opinion frequently challenge books based on content, as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451 and other novels fall under scrutiny depending on public mood and cultural times. Yet, this new round of challenging is based on the behavior and actions of the authors, not the content of their books. Their objectionable behavior is in question, as rightly it should be, especially in these times of sensitivity upon the rights of individuals. Young readers aren’t necessarily going to be politically minded when they go to select a book to read. But their parents often are.
I find it interesting that distance tends to soften outrage. Charles Dickens led two lives, all the while perpetuating Victorian values of domestic happiness, yet we embrace his books and promote them in our literature courses. Oscar Wilde was jailed for his preferences, and his books are not abandoned. Ernest Hemingway, well-known for his womanizing, is still part of the recommended literary canon.
For me, as a teacher with a librarian’s directives, who is also a writer, I am reflecting on the responsibility I have as I recommend books to my students and as I write them. The #metoo movement, as it drifts over to the literary world, is certainly setting up a new awareness of the impact of words.
What are reader thoughts on pulling books from shelves in light of the conduct of the authors?