Monday, November 20, 2006

Tainted Juice

"Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas." - American Library Association

O.J. Simpson is arguably one of the greatest running backs in American football history. He's also a morally reprehensible, ethically bankrupt scumbag. He's also giving librarians one major headache.

By now we all know about O.J.'s latest plan to cash in - writing a book called "If I Did It" detailing how he would have done the crime had he "really" murdered his wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman. This has, naturally, prompted outrage among those in the general public who still have values and morals - plus pissed off a lot of booksellers and librarians.

Here's the conundrum: booksellers are merchants. They can sell whatever they damn well please. Heck, they could choose not to carry Stephen King if they wanted to. But librarians? Oh that pesky Intellectual Freedom ideal. Damn, and double damn.

I got in a spirited debate with The Boyfriend over the weekend about whether or not libraries should stoop to buying O.J.'s "book." I said, that while I found it morally repugnant, that yes - if people want to read it, then public libraries should find a way to obtain a copy for interested parties. That's why it's a public library. It caters to the whole public, even the morons that evolution has neglected to weed out.

The Boyfriend was horrified that I would take this stance, and largely, I agree with him. I'm horrified too. But the problem with being a "public library" is that there should be something on the shelf to offend everybody. And while I think it's safe to say that O.J. is offending nearly everybody across the board - people get their dander up over the wackiest things. Darwin, Judy Blume, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, Harry Potter, Captain Underpants - all authors/titles that have seriously "offended" people over the years.

The thing with free speech and Intellectual Freedom is that we can't just pick the ideals we agree with. Yes, it's great that as Americans we can say "The President is full of shit," but it also means that the Ku Klux Klan has the "right" to have a parade in Washington D.C. Women have the right to obtain information about birth control and Larry Flint can publish a porn magazine.

Which makes my job very hard. Hell, it's easy to defend Judy Blume and Harry Potter, but O.J.?!?! But as librarians we can't just pay lip service to Intellectual Freedom, we have to truly believe it. If we don't, we have failed. Yeah, as much as it sickens me, that means O.J. too. Truly though, I hope the Goldmans and the Browns squeeze every last penny out of that mf-er. I also pray for his and Nicole's children. It's not the fact that O.J. is doing what he is doing that gets to me - it's that he's doing it when he has two children with Nicole. The fact that he has no regard for his own flesh and blood is what turns my stomach. I hope those children can find some peace, but with O.J. for a daddy it's certainly not going to be easy for them.

UPDATE: Oh thank the Lord, good sense has prevailed!


Racy Li said...

I agree. I think everyone should be allowed to read everything and judge for themselves. When you ban a book, you only make it more mysterious and desirable and make more people want to read it. When it's widely available everywhere, well, no one cares.

Care Taker said...

I love libraries and consider public librarians one of our greatest assets when it comes to defending intellectual freedom. But does that mean a public librarian has a mandate to stock every single book published? Don't librarians routinely play gatekeeper when they sort through publishers' catalogs and cherry-pick the books they deem worthy of public consumption? I'm not being sarcastic, I promise you. It's just that yes, librarians DO choose what goes on the shelf, and they DO have a responsibility to sort the wheat from the chaff, and so No, I do not need, want or expect my local library to put money in O.J. Simpson's pocket by purchasing his heinous book. The government is not banning O.J.'s book. People can buy it (well, now that the publisher has canceled the thing, I suppose they CAN'T) but anyhow, government censorship is about the government preventing a publisher from selling a book, not the local library having the good taste to reject garbage.

Stacy~ said...

I agree with racy, people want what they can't have, regardless of what the topic is. The sad thing is, there are still a lot of people who will still buy the book, and that sickens me. I applaud your stance even though it's not an easy one to take.

While libraries may decide to some extent what does and what doesn't appear on the shelves, part of your decision must be based on popular demand, no matter the subject matter. Otherwise what good is freedom of speech?

I am so, so glad to hear that the whole t.v. special has been canceled and that for once the cha-ching of cash registers was not as powerful as the threat of losing viewers and sponsors.

Jennifer said...

Wendy, as much as I hate to do it, I agree with your stance.

My problem was with the publisher and the division of FOX that were going to run the two shows with OJ.

I am glad the book and show have been cancelled. I assume the publisher has lost a chunk of money on this and hope it's a lesson well learned.

shayera said...

Oh, do I know exactly what you are talking about!
I was in a meeting last week where someone was high horsing it "we shouldn't be carrying tripe like this."
Yes, I totally agree that it's horrid and that it is tripe. But I would have purchased a copy and put it on my shelf and hoped like mad that somebody stole it and I never had to see it again.
Now I don't have to care.

Wendy said...

Care Taker:
You just described my job. Yes, it's the job of the librarian to make decisions (or evaluate) new materials that are coming in - but like Stacy said, many times we find ourselves bowing to popular demand. So while a great many people would rather swallow battery acid than read O.J.'s book, there are others out there who were likely looking forward to it.

Also, while the library might make the decision to not purchase a requested item, they should offer the interested party options on how to obtain it. InterLibrary Loan being the first course of action.

Shayera: We had pretty much adopted a "wait and see" attitude. We weren't going to preorder, and were basically waiting for patron requests to force our hand. Which I'm sure will set off the Intellectual Freedom Police - but it would have covered our butts. "Yes Ma'am I know we spent your tax dollars on this tripe, but other patrons requested it!" And like you, I'm convinced it would have been a high-theft item....

Rosie said...

Praise be this book was cancelled, but it's caused such a stir that I'm expecting some other sort of book or TV show to surface in short order.

BTW, your point that it is easy to stand behind the "good" books that some people want censored rather than the "bad" ones no decent person should like is very important. It's subjective what is good and what is bad...what is informing us and what is garbage. Having the choice (or the availability in our public library) IS intellectual freedom.