Will Unwound #837: “Slip Sliding Away”August 19, 2013
Among the arguments against the censorship of pornography in the children’s departments of public libraries (expressed in yesterday’s comments), is the slippery slope theory. Here’s how the argument goes: If you censor pornography from the children’s department especially on moral grounds, this will set a precedent of censorship that will encourage parents who want the library to censor other types of materials such as those dealing with:
- anything containing the N word
- gay, lesbian, and transgendered people
- Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Atheism
- the Holocaust
- Armenian genocide
- Political books from the left and right
- Foreign Films
- Violent Films
- Violent Videogames
- Videos of Beheadings
The slippery slope sounds good in theory but is non-existent in practice. There is no evidence at all that the censorship of pornography in children’s libraries leads to the the widespread censorship of other subjects. I have searched the internet and can find no data to support the slippery slope theory when it comes to censoring porn. The public library where I am a trustee (Livermore, CA) filters children’s computers, and in the 3 years that I have been on the board we have not had one request from a patron to remove any materials from the library collection. My strong hunch is that this is pretty much the case everywhere.
This is not to say that a few patrons motivated by moral, ethical, political, religious, or some other personal reason wouldn’t try to have certain subject areas cleansed from library collections, and it is quite possible in those isolated cases a patron could express this line of logic to the library staff and/or board: “Look you have shown that you practice censorship by blocking kids from watching porn because you think porn is bad for them. Well, I think Halloween is a product of the devil and is also bad for kids so please remove all Halloween books from the children’s room.”
I have to admit a grudging respect for this patron for four reasons: 1) the patron feels that books and libraries make a difference in a child’s life, 2) the patron is exercising his/her First Amendment rights not just to speak freely but to petition the government, 3) the patron is right in pointing out that by blocking porn the library is practicing censorship and so now everything in the library is fair game to question and challenge, and 4) Halloween, like most manufactured holidays, has become a major pain in the neck.
On the other hand, I think the patron should not be allowed to deny other parents a right to have their children read books about Halloween. Although Halloween has become a drinking holiday for adults and a candy holiday for tots, it is not intrinsically evil, and the library does not have a responsibility to protect children from it.
But other subject areas on the list are more problematic. Is there a link between violent videogames and violent actions? Should children be allowed to check out movies that have been rated R for violence? Should videos of public beheadings be banned? As several Unwinders mentioned yesterday extreme violence is just as harmful to children as XXX rated videos.
What is a library to do? By filtering porn, we have unlocked the door of censorship. How much more should we open it? It’s a tough question, but we have a good answer for it – the library board of trustees. These are the folks elected or appointed to represent the community. They do not represent the library profession and they certainly do not represent the ALA. They are not experts in library science, but they are experts in the community, and ultimately they are the ones entrusted with making the tough decisions about challenges to library materials.
They are the ones who can best ensure that things don’t go slip sliding away.