Frances Jones’ Defusing Censorship: The Librarian’s Guide to Handling Censorship Conflictsis a book written for librarians about censorship in libraries. It was written in 1983, but most of the information is still very relevant today. I find the topic of censorship and libraries fascinating, and really enjoyed this book.
The book begins with “a brief history of censorship in libraries”, which is much briefer than I would have liked. Given the level of detail in the rest of the book, a fuller history/introduction chapter would have been appropriate. Nevertheless, the chapter is well written and provides an appropriate set-up for the book. It also introduces the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, an integral document in debates over access to disputed material in libraries.
The first third of the book examines the issue in the context of school libraries. Jones explores the legally protected rights of students, parents, teachers, and school boards, as well as mentioning situations in which removing a book from the library would not be censorship (obscene or damaging material, or regular removal of outdated or overly worn books). Jones then details a number of specific court cases that have relevance to censorship and school libraries. I enjoy how Jones provides a narrative story of the case and not just a dry summary. The school library section ends with a look at the most commonly protested material (which, to my surprise, included works on secular humanism).
The next part of the book looks at censorship and public libraries. Few court cases have arisen over censorship in a public library and Jones explores the reasons for this. Jones also goes through the rights of patrons and library employees, exhorts librarians to have a well written selection and reconsideration policy, and looks at legal cases that are relevant. Jones summarizes the most common challenges to public libraries, mainly the possibility of sexual material being accessed by children (including sex ed books geared towards children) and challenges to specific groups using library meeting rooms.
The final section deals with “coping with conflict” once it arises. Jones has a chapter on internal censorship (censorship in various forms done by librarians) and how to deal with it, as well as a chapter on “responsible planning and effective response.” The book concludes with useful appendices including sample written policies, statements from the ALA and other organizations on intellectual freedom, a list of banned books, guidelines for giving an in-service training on intellectual freedom, and contact information (address and phone number) for various organizations that could provide assistance in a censorship conflict.
Overall I found this book to be enjoyable, an easy read, and full of helpful information. It provides a great background on a very important topic at just the right level of detail. I would love to see a new edition that covers the last 30 years of related legal history, but a large amount of the book is still very applicable. I am hugely surprised over the kinds of things that have invoked patron rage, everything from a library letting a meditation group use their meeting room to a book titled “The Wonderful Story of How You Were Born.” Even though it is geared towards librarians, this is a book I believe anyone interested in censorship would enjoy.