Saturday, 21 February 2009

Librarians do it in stacks... Maintain collections, that is.

Just read "Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books on Sex" by Norman Oder from the Library Journal on February 20. The article talks about how the library board for Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has decided to restrict access bye age to four books on the topic of sex, despite the director's recommendation and comments from other groups.

This is not uncommon. And not really surprising. A group of mayor or county appointed concerned citizens claiming that any exposure to sexual information to anyone under 18 (I'm assuming that's what passes for a minor in that area) is painfully traumatizing. Despite the seemingly obvious fact that this kind of reaction is probably the biggest cause of all our adult problems with sex, relationships, intimacy, gender issues and the like... Despite the fact that putting sex education material where you have to ask someone specifically for it will place an insurmountable barrier to the vast majority of the very adults the books are there to help... Despite the seemingly obvious contradiction of censoring these materials in the face of their own country's declarations of freedom and democracy... Despite all our own experience of not being scarred for life on discovering our Dad's Playboys and our continued ignorance even with such a valuable reference on a subject that's central to all our lives by definition... Despite all these issues with this story, I think my biggest problem is with the lack of similar action with materials "harmful to minors" (as well as the rest of us) due to a lack of truthfulness and reason.

We have a bizarre sense of priority. We shut down discussions and educational opportunities on an act and aspect of our society that ensures the continuation of our species (and at least half of us would say a very contented continuation... lol) because we think it's dangerous. And then we embrace and protect or simply ignore whole areas of irrationality, nonsense, bias and unjustified claims. Those who are religious literally place faith or belief without justification above reason. We raise our children on deliberate lies we call fairy tales and tradition. We get so much "information" from journalists, authors, and friends without requiring any amount of proof. Sure Oprah Winfrey gets upset when she finds out a book she's put her brand on turns out to be blatant lies, but then where were the measures taken to ensure that didn't happen in the first place?

I'm not saying that we should all live our lives through pure logic (although Mr. Spock's ears are a conversation starter!) and that no amount of fiction or childhood innocence is allowed or even appropriate or that religion provides nothing helpful or positive. Imagination of what's not possible or falling into a make-believe world is wonderful and valuable and we must all put bounds on the level of certainty we require from all the various sources in our lives. What I'm dismayed at is the relative lack of awareness of THESE issues and the disproportionate preoccupation with what seems to me to be mere insecurities and phobias. These latter are supposed to be managed and surmounted in the name of the former. Not embraced and maintained.

I do think we're getting better though. Fewer cases of censorship seem to bubble to the surface and they are often accompanied by reports of opposition. Sex education IS more available in schools overall and hopefully (because I have no numbers to support anything more than hope) parents are helping their children learn more. And, although so many see it as the downfall of civilization, sex and other untouchable subjects are coming into the mainstream more, which is good if only to allow us to talk about such things and discover what IS harmful and what is not.

So go out and talk. Or just stay where you are and comment here...

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