1. A detailed description of the activity undertaken
In July 2014 the Singapore National Library censored, removed and pulped all copies of three children’s books with a gay-theme (Lee, 2014; Vincent, 2014). This created quite a lot of news and brought to light the question of public interest and individual right of access to diverse material versus majority consensus and community values (Schrader, 2009; Weisman, 2009).
I wanted to read more about the impact of public opinion on censorship and how librarians could best understand and counteract attempts to remove books from the library, and therefore chose the article: “Removal of Gay-Themed Materials from Public Libraries: Public Opinion Trends, 1973-2006” (Burke, 2008) for review.
In the article, the author examines data from the General Social Survey (GSS), in the USA over the indicated period, related to survey answers on the removal of a homosexually themed book, and attempts to relate this to other questions on demographic and geographic factors and personal belief. She concludes that people are becoming less conservative viz a viz homosexuality and even if people do not believe homosexuality is wrong, they generally do not support the removal of gay-themed books and the trend is downwards in all groups. Higher educated and younger people were less likely to support removal and the largest variation in data was to be found in people from different religious backgrounds and between denominations, with people self-reporting stronger beliefs more likely to support removal. Gender and political party affiliation was neutral.
In relation to the Singapore situation, the relationship between belief and supporting removal is the most relevant. Singapore is known as a strongly religious community and it has been implied that political and social power is concentrated in conservative Christianity (Waipang, 2011). It also appears that the books were removed under pressure from a targeted campaign originating in one of the religious organisations.
2. Answers to the following questions:
What did you learn?
The most interesting finding from the article was that although people may not accept homosexuality, they still did not believe that books with homosexual themes should be removed from library collections and thereby not be accessible to those with lifestyles different to them.
How was the activity relevant to your professional practice?
Reading the article (Burke, 2008) and also reading related articles (Gutman, 2010; Lukenbill & Lukenbill, 2007; Schrader, 2009; Weisman, 2009) gave me a better insight into censorship challenges to books and the positive and professional duties of a librarian within the framework of ethics, inclusive service, access to information and guarding against discriminatory or censorship practices.
Were any gaps in your knowledge revealed? How might you fill those gaps?
Until now I didn’t have a very clearly articulated view on censorship beyond the fact that I didn’t think it was appropriate. The articles I have read have given me some concrete strategies for dealing with challenges to books in the library as well as an opportunity to revisit our collection in the light of recommended books.
Burke, S. K. (2008). Removal of Gay‐Themed Materials from Public Libraries: Public Opinion Trends, 1973–2006. Public Library Quarterly, 27(3), 247–264. doi:10.1080/01616840802229552
Gutman, D. (2010). How I Corrupted America’s Youth. School Library Journal, 56(5), 28. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=50337475&site=ehost-live
Lee, P. (2014, July 13). 400 gather outside National Library for reading event in response to NLB’s removal of three books. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/250-gather-outside-national-library-reading-event-respon
Lukenbill, W. B., & Lukenbill, J. F. (2007). Censorship: What Do School Library Specialists Really Know? A Consideration of Students’ Rights, the Law and Implications for a New Education Paradigm. School Library Media Research, 10.
Schrader, A. M. (2009). Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship, Building Resilience: LGBTQ Services and Collections in Public, School and Post-Secondary Libraries. Feliciter, 55(3), 107–108.
Vincent, A. (2014, July 11). Singapore pulps childrens books about gay parenting [News report]. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10961880/Singapore-pulps-childrens-books-about-gay-parenting.html
Waipang, A. (2011, August 6). Singapore’s religious landscape from Census 2010 [Weblog post]. Retrieved September 18, 2014, from http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/singapores-religious-landscape-from-census-2010/
Weisman, S. (2009). A Review of “Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship”: Shrader, A. and Wells, K. (2007). Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Teachers, Federation. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(1), 92–96. doi:10.1080/19361650802379805