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Censorship

According to the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Glossary, Censorship is "a change in the access status of material made by a governing authority or its representatives.  Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes when the intent is to restrict access."

Of course, a major role of a library media specialist is to intelligently select materials suitable for library patron's and the school's curriculum.  For a definition of selection, Wisconsin's Department of Public refers to Rosholt School District's School Media Center Resources Selection Policy.  Selection is defined as "The decision which must be made to add resources to support curriculum and to meet recreational needs." 

This begs the question, "How does selection differ from censorship?"

According to Lester Asheim, in an article for Wilson Library Bulletin (September 1953) the difference from a patron's point of view does not matter if an item is not selected for inclusion (selection) or is removed because the material is deemed objectionable (censorship).  In either case -- the patron does not have access to the material.

Mr. Asheim's conclusions are that the main difference is that selection takes a positive approach and looks at resources from the point of view that considers a work as a whole and looks for something of value.  Selection relies on the intelligence of library users to make responsible decisions about a resource.  

Censorship, Mr. Asheim argues, takes a negative point of view and seeks to identify elements within the works that are inappropriate.  Censorship seeks to protect a reader from himself by applying the judgment of the censor.

Both federal and state laws prohibit obscene materials -- though legal definitions of obscenity can be tricky and vary from community to community.  The discussion presented here is assuming that reasonable people have agreed that a given item is not considered "obscene," because the censorship / selection issues presented here do not apply.  Obscene material does not have legal protection.

The main point I am trying to make here is that selection policy and the professional judgment, BEFORE a work is deemed objectionable, is the best way to defend the liberty of library users.

Selection policies protect the rights of all parties involved when they:

bulletInclude precise statements for the purpose of the library media collection, school curriculum, and district mission.
bulletSpecify that multiple perspectives on an issue should be included.
bulletRequire outside sources of reviews on resources being considered.
bulletSpecify the formal procedure of a challenge.
bulletAre formally approved by the governing body (school board).

This, in turn, allows a library media specialist to defend their selections based on:

bulletThe contribution, as a whole, the challenged item makes to the overall collection and the purpose of the library media center.
bulletCurrent standards and acceptance of a resource within its subject / curriculum area. 
bulletReasons the work was chosen (as opposed to why the book should be censored).
bulletThe status of the authors in content areas -- especially controversial one.
bulletHow teachers can address the concerns of those that challenge a resource and still benefit from having the selection available in the library media center's collection.

When there is disagreement over the content of a resource, the situation must be handled in a professional, respectful, and pre-determined manner.  Specific suggestions, procedures, and policies for handling selection and censorship are provided in DPI's Dealing with Selection and Censorship:  A Handbook for Wisconsin Schools and Libraries.

Groton Public School (CT) Selection and Reconsideration Policy is an example of school policy that provides a framework for dealing with these issues.  It is presented here to illustrate how the ideas presented in this page can be applied to a challenge.  In my resource section, there is a page devoted to censorship links.

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