Thursday, February 22, 2007

Naughty Bits

By now most everyone with any interest in librarianship or children's literature has heard about Scrotum Gate. A couple of thoughts:
  • Are we really upset over a word? And scrotum of all things? Yet the people pissed off about this probably have no problems with their child playing Grand Theft Auto or watching horror movies. I love Americans. We're fine with violence and death, but mention a body part or sex and suddenly we're all Puritans. Times like this I wish the Mayflower would have sunk somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.
  • Yet another black-eye for librarians everywhere. We're misguided. We're clueless. We're raked over the coals no matter what we do. We don't censor and it pisses people off. We do censor and it pisses people off. We filter computers, it pisses people off. We don't filter and all of the sudden we're a bunch of sick perverts who want to expose children to porn.
This job ain't for sissies.

So it was rather timely when I read this quote this morning:
Tennessee Williams saved my life. As a 12-year-old boy in suburban Baltimore, I would look up his name in the card catalog at the library and it would read “see Librarian.” I wanted these “see Librarian” books — and I wanted them now — but in the late 1950s (and sadly even today), there was no way a warped adolescent like myself could get his hands on one. But I soon figured out that the “see Librarian” books were on a special shelf behind the counter. So when the kindly librarian was helping the “normal” kids with their book reports, I sneaked behind the checkout desk and stole the first book I ever wanted to possess on my own.

-John Waters from revised edition of Memoirs by Tennessee Williams. Full article here.
The great (and sometimes frustrating) thing about libraries is they belong to the People. And that means, all of the people - even the assholes we don't like. It's the only place on Earth where you can check your e-mail, get the latest Nora Roberts, find an auto repair manual for your 1988 Honda Civic, study for the GED/SAT/ACT, pick up tax forms, find out how to do your own divorce, learn how to cook like Martha Stewart, and maybe learn a little something about yourself.

Name me a young adult who didn't feel like an outsider at least once in their lives and I'll eat my shoe. Public libraries can be (and should be) a refuge. I'm sure growing up as John Waters wasn't easy, but finding Tennessee Williams had to be a revelation. Suddenly, there was someone out there who "understood." And even in the myopic 1950s, and even factoring in the restricted shelving, Waters found him at the public library. I'm sure this horrifies some parents out there, but think about it - Waters found comfort when he found Williams. Did Tennessee Williams really save his life? Hard to say. But one thing for certain, Waters as a young boy found out he wasn't alone - and who are we to take that away from him? If anything we should be rejoicing in it.

I'm not saying children shouldn't be sheltered to a certain extent. However, completely shutting out the world only hurts them in the long run. We seem content to want to raise a generation unable to think for themselves. Will reading a book that has the word "scrotum" in it teach them critical thinking? Probably not. But at the very least, they'll learn how to use a dictionary.


~ames~ said...

Great post Wendy! I had a flashback of the first library I fell in love with, and the trips I would make to get there. It was magical.

Another memory-I went to the library on Saturday to return some books, and there was a mouse running around. :P
Ok-I know this has nothing to do with the point of your post. LOL

But I agree children shouldn't be sheltered. When is the dictionary going to be banned? ha!

Rosie said...

I love Americans. We're fine with violence and death, but mention a body part or sex and suddenly we're all Puritans.

Amen! My initial thoughts were a)that like any other group not all librarians probably agree the book should be banned (my kids had a kick ass librarian at their elementary school) and b) we've bigger fish to fry than this in education.

Scrotum Gate, that cracked me up.

Lil' Sis said...

You know my thoughts Wendy - as your sis of course.

But as a former teacher I can tell you I love it when psycho parents freak out! It makes the kids want to (gasp!) read the book in question! If I tell a kid a book is banned, they will RUN to get it - or if I say, "this has some _____ (insert evil thing here: sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.)in it, is it ok with your folks" they snatch the book out of my hands and read it in a day. Then, of course, they come back and say, "Ms. Crutcher, this wasn't even bad, puhleeze!"

Besides, this book is geared towards middle school students, the scrotum belongs to a damn dog, and really, if you don't want your kids to read it then tell YOUR kids - not someone else's. People don't realize that "scrotum" is not shocking to middle school students anymore - I mean really, when I taught middle school we had a problem with students have SEX in the bathroom (which is nasty on so many levels)! Chances are the parents wanting to ban the book haven't even read it - as we all know people tend to fear what they don't know/understand. Ok, stepping off my soapbox. :)

Michelle Pillow said...

Great blog, Wendy!

I read sooo many book I shouldn't have and admit I would have been one of those kids that when told the book was banned, would have found a way to peek inside. ;)


Big Sis said...

I love this post. You know that mom bought In The Night Kitchen for Emily about a year ago. It's now one of Elijah's favorite books to read before bed. I was dumbfounded when I learned it was a "banned book" due to the nudity. (The boy falls "out of his clothes" in his dream).
My love for a book increases exponentially with the number of places it is banned.

Wendy said...

Big Sis: Well great, my nephew is probably going to grow up to be a warped pervert because he likes Maurice Sendak :)

Lil' Sis: Actually it was a handful of school librarians raising a stink over the book. Which in turn, makes all of us look bad. What I think the general public fails to realize is that there is a world of difference between school libraries and public libraries - but we all tend to get lumped in together. And I agree, there's some freaky-a$$ sh*t going on in our middle schools, the least of which is the kids reading the word "scrotum."

Michelle (and Lil' Sis) again: Yeah, I was the same way. If I found out that someone, somewhere objected to a book over content I had to get my hands on it. I read some great, great books that way. Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck are still my all-time favorite books ever.

Ames: Tee Hee, when I worked out in the country we had a problem with field mice getting into the book drop. They wouldn't get near the books, just hang out below the shelf where all the books "landed."

shayera said...

I've been trying for over a week to think of what to say about this. And, full disclosure, I know Susan Patron very well. She's one of the people who helped train me when I was hired as a children's librarian here at LAPL. So I can say pretty confidently that she didn't throw the word in to shock anyone.
This school librarian is such an embarrassment to the profession. I was telling one of my friends about this and her comment was "well, you know as well as I do that school librarians are freaks."

Suisan said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the general public ahs no idea that school librarians and public librarians are NOT the same thing. (Same with school psychologists too.)

My school librarian is quite concerned about books featuring demons or wizards coming into our Elementary school. Not that SHE has a problem with that, you understand. Oh no. Just that SOME parents MIGHT have an issue, etc.

Oy yoi yoi.