Monday, July 14, 2008

Uncle Bobby's Wedding

Recently, a library patron challenged (urged a reconsideration of the ownership or placement of) a book called "Uncle Bobby's Wedding." Honestly, I hadn't even heard of it until that complaint. But I did read the book, and responded to the patron, who challenged the item through email and requested that I respond online (not via snail-mail) about her concerns.

I suspect the book will get a lot of challenges in 2008-2009. So I offer my response, purging the patron's name, for other librarians.

Uncle Bobby's wedding
June 27, 2008

Dear Ms. Patron:

Thank you for working with my assistant to allow me to fit your concerns about “Uncle Bobby's Wedding,” by Sarah S. Brannen, into our “reconsideration” process. I have been assured that you have received and viewed our relevant policies: the Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, the Freedom to View, and our Reconsideration Policy.

The intent of providing all that isn't just to occupy your time. It's to demonstrate that our lay Board of Trustees –- which has reviewed and adopted these policies on behalf of our library -- has spent time thinking about the context in which the library operates, and thoughtfully considered the occasional discomfort (with our culture or constituents) that might result. There's a lot to consider.

Here's what I understand to be your concern, based on your writings. First, you believe that “the book is specifically designed to normalize gay marriage and is targeted toward the 2-7 year old age group.” Your second key concern is that you “find it inappropriate that this type of literature is available to this age group.” You cite your discussion with your daughter, and commented, “This was not the type of conversation I thought I would be having with my seven year old in the nightly bedtime routine.”

Finally, you state your strong belief, first, “in America and the beliefs of our founding fathers,” and second, that “marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman as stated in the Webster's dictionary and also in the Bible.”

You directed me to the site, which I also reviewed. I got a copy of “Uncle Bobby's Wedding” today, and read it. I even hauled out my favorite Webster's (the college edition, copyright 1960).

First, I think you're right that the purpose of the book is to show a central event, the wedding of two male characters, as no big thing. The emotional center of the story, of course, is Chloe's fear that she's losing a favorite uncle to another relationship. That fear, I think, is real enough to be an issue for a lot of young children. But yes, Sarah Brannen clearly was trying to portray gay marriage as normal, as not nearly so important as the changing relationship between a young person and her favorite uncle.

Your second issue is a little trickier. You say that the book is inappropriate, and I infer that your reason is the topic itself: gay marriage. I think a lot of adults imagine that what defines a children's book is the subject. But that's not the case. Children's books deal with anything and everything. There are children's books about death (even suicide), adult alcoholism, family violence, and more. Even the most common fairy tales have their grim side: the father and stepmother of Hansel and Gretel, facing hunger and poverty, take the children into the woods, and abandon them to die! Little Red Riding Hood (in the original version, anyhow) was eaten by the wolf along with granny. There's a fascinating book about this, by the bye, called “The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales,” by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. His thesis is that both the purpose and power of children's literature is to help young people begin to make sense of the world. There is a lot out there that is confusing, or faintly threatening, and even dangerous in the world. Stories help children name their fears, understand them, work out strategies for dealing with life. In Hansel and Gretel, children learn that cleverness and mutual support might help you to escape bad situations. In Little Red Riding Hood, they learn not to talk to big bad strangers. Of course, not all children's books deal with “difficult issues,” maybe not even most of them. But it's not unusual.

So what defines a children's book is the treatment, not the topic. “Uncle Bobby's Wedding” is 27-28 pages long (if you count the dedication page). Generally, there are about 30 words per page, and each page is illustrated. The main character, and the key perspective, is that of a young girl. The book is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, “a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.” The Cataloging in Publication information (on the back side of the title page) shows that the catalogers of the Library of Congress identified it as an “E” book – easy or beginning reader. Bottom line: It's hard for me to see it as anything but a children's book.

You suggested that the book could be “placed in an area designating the subject matter,” or “labeled for parental guidance” by stating that “some material may be inappropriate for young children.” I have two responses. First, we tried the “parenting collection” approach a couple of times in my history here. And here's what we found: nobody uses them. They constitute a barrier to discovery and use. The books there – and some very fine ones -- just got lost. In the second case, I believe that every book in the children's area, particularly in the area where usually the parent is reading the book aloud, involves parental guidance. The labeling issue is tricky, too: is the topic just homosexuality? Where babies come from? Authority figures that can't be trusted? Stepmothers who abandon their children to die?

Ultimately, such labels make up a governmental determination of the moral value of the story. It seems to me – as a father who has done a lot of reading to his kids over the years – that that kind of decision is up to the parents, not the library. Because here's the truth of the matter: not every parent has the same value system.

You feel that a book about gay marriage is inappropriate for young children. But another book in our collection, “Daddy's Roommate,” was requested by a mother whose husband left her, and their young son, for another man. She was looking for a way to begin talking about this with son. Another book, “Alfie's Home,” was purchased at the request of another mother looking for a way to talk about the suspected homosexuality of her young son from a Christian perspective. There are gay parents in Douglas County, right now, who also pay taxes, and also look for materials to support their views. We don't have very many books on this topic, but we do have a handful.

In short, most of the books we have are designed not to interfere with parents' notions of how to raise their children, but to support them. But not every parent is looking for the same thing.

Your third point, about the founders' vision of America, is something that has been a matter of keen interest to me most of my adult life. In fact, I even wrote a book about it, where I went back and read the founders' early writings about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What a fascinating time to be alive! What astonishing minds! Here's what I learned: our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them. The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified.

How then, can we claim that the founders would support the restriction of access to a book that really is just about an idea, to be accepted or rejected as you choose? What harm has this book done to anyone? Your seven year old told you, “Boys are not supposed to marry.” In other words, you have taught her your values, and those values have taken hold. That's what parents are supposed to do, and clearly, exposure to this book, or several, doesn't just overthrow that parental influence. It does, of course, provide evidence that not everybody agrees with each other; but that's true, isn't it?

The second part of your third point was your belief that marriage was between a man and a woman. My Webster's actually gives several definitions of marriage: “1. the state of being married; relation between husband and wife...; 2. the act of marrying, wedding; 3. the rite or form used in marrying; 4. any close or intimate union.” Definitions 2-4, even as far back as 1960, could be stretched to include a wedding between two men. Word definitions change; legal rights change. In some parts of America, at least today, gay marriage is legal. If it's legal, then how could writing a book about it be inappropriate?

Finally, then, I conclude that “Uncle Bobby's Wedding” is a children's book, appropriately categorized and shelved in our children's picture book area. I fully appreciate that you, and some of your friends, strongly disagree with its viewpoint. But if the library is doing its job, there are lots of books in our collection that people won't agree with; there are certainly many that I object to. Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life.

As noted in our policies, you do have the right to appeal my decision to the Board of Trustees. If you'd like to do that, let me know, and I can schedule a meeting. Meanwhile, I'm more than happy to discuss this further with you. I do appreciate many things: your obvious value of reading, your frank and loving relationship with your child, your willingness to raise issues of importance to you in the public square, and more. Thank you, very much, for taking the time to raise your concerns with me. Although I suspect you may not agree with my decision, I hope it's clear that I've given it a great deal of thought, and believe it is in accordance with both our guiding principles, and those, incidentally, of the founders of our nation.

Best wishes to you and your family,


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Liz said...

That's a beautiful thoughtful response. Thank you for posting it! What a good model to follow!

Mom101 said...

This post was just pointed out to me and I wanted to say bravo. It makes my heart swell to think that there are people like you out there, and your community is lucky to have you. My daughters should be so fortunate to have a local librarian who demonstrates such an evident passion for the profession.

Considering the attention this post has garnered, I'm also impressed that the ratio of sane commenters to wackadoodles is very much weighted in favor of the sane. That speaks to how thoughtful and comprehensive--and not condescending at all--your original letter is.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully well thought out letter. Well done! Truthful and respectful of everyone.

ammouth said...


You caught me. I do like to argue. Not for the sake of argument though. For principle. Words have meaning. Government failing to buy a book for a government lending service isn’t censorship. Censorship is prior restraint. If the government doesn’t wish to buy a particular book for a particular patron, that isn’t censorship. If the taxpayers don’t wish to buy books of any nature for any reason, it isn’t censorship. If the government tells an author, or a private publisher it can’t write or publish, that’s censorship. By your definition, in order to avoid “censorship”, the government and taxpayers would have to buy all the books in print and put them on the shelves in order not to be censoring them. We call that one, the Library of Congress…

Also, the public’s demand for freebies is hardly a market test of the value of a product. You have a taxpayer financed source of freebies which you actually have to market and beg for patrons. When best sellers like the latest Harry Potter tome isn’t sufficient to attract enough recipients, you have to expand the mission to include free movies and free internet access… and you still have to beg people to come and get something for nothing. What’s next? Popcorn? Starbucks? Valet parking?

I really don’t have anything against public lending services… I’ve spent hours in them myself… however, when words like “rights” and “censorship” get thrown around, it’s time for a reality check.

The point is, in many cases, library groups have taken sides in the culture war and use the false claims I’ve listed to cow the critics. It doesn’t work.

Dingali said...


A well written response to support your "selective" first amendment enforcement.

It is clear that there are people, including you, involved in the decisions on which books you do choose to be part of your collection. It is this process that allows you to promote your social agenda using public funds. Are there any books that you reviewed, considered and declined as additions to the libraries collection? If so, why didn't you include them under the same free speech argument you use to defend having this book as part of your collection?

From your website I see that you host speaking engagements including "Transforming Libraries and Communities". The description of the session concerns me and gives me insight into your motivations:

"Afternoon Session: "Transforming Libraries and Communities"
How can libraries assist their communities in achieving missions, telling communities’ stories, promoting citizenship, and working with them to “create a symbiotic relationship?” How do we serve differing populations in the same community? And how do we shift the library culture to one of activism? These questions, as well as ideas leading to answers, will be discussed by two presenters who know what goes into making the library a place that has the potential to transform a community.

You strive to make the library a place that has the potential to transform a community? Transform it to what? Your vision of what it should be? By any chance does that influence what books you do and do not include in your collection?

You strive to shift the library culture to one of activism? I definitely believe our founding fathers would have a problem with using public funds to promote your activist agenda. Does your activism aspiration have any effect on the books you choose to include or not include in your collection?

I am amazed that you choose to hide behind the claim that you are simply enforcing the first amendment rights of the author when there is clearly another "activist" agenda at work, supported by our tax dollars.

Shame on you.

Susanne said...

Wow, great response! I'm sure that's more than she bargained for when she complained about the book.

Emily Barney said...

You might want to note this section of the letter:

Another book, “Alfie's Home,” was purchased at the request of another mother looking for a way to talk about the suspected homosexuality of her young son from a Christian perspective.

If this letter had been from a homosexual parent objecting to that book, he still would have written a letter defending the place of books that represent different points of view.

Jamie took the time to respectfully respond to this person, referencing their own goals and beliefs without suggesting he wanted to change them. Engaging with the community and encouraging active citizenship does not mean silencing the voices of people you (may) disagree with. He encourages this woman's expression of her beliefs, even when he thought it might be a political ploy against the library. So what's wrong with encouraging people to act on their opinions?

Jeremy Puma said...


As the stepson of a children's librarian who had to deal with similar issues, I had to chime in with a quick thought that didn't seem covered too terribly much by a brief skim.

What I find most laudable about your letter has nothing to do with the content of the book in question, the right to free speech or the role of libraries in our society. What makes your letter such a stand-out, and what so many find so remarkable about it, is your patience, courteousness, and erudition combined with a lovely rhetorical style. In other words, although you disagreed with the objection, you were respectful of the objector.

This kind of discourse is sorely lacking in our society (and virtually nonexistent in some circles of the internet-- vide some of your comments, of course). So count this as another well-deserved bravo, and I hope you continue to receive them.

Anonymous said...

Here via Mixed Race America; just wanted to say thank you for writing (and sharing) such a thoughtful letter.

nicci said...


Brandon Burt said...

Reading this letter reminded me of why I admire the librarians in my life: for their judiciousness, candor and commitment to library ethics.

I only regret that the most obvious examples of controversial children's lit topics seem to be highly negative ("There are children's books about death (even suicide), adult alcoholism, family violence, and more. Even the most common fairy tales have their grim side ...").

Unfortunately, those who are most likely to object to this book are also likely to accept that gay marriage is somehow akin to alcoholism or family violence--which of course was not your intent.

I'm just wondering if there are more apt analogies to controversial J-fiction that could be made?

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, the first lawsuit in the American Colonies (1691) was a libel suit whereby Ben Franklin reported William Bradford (the Royal Appointed Printer for the Colonies, and a direct competitor of Franklin's) for saying seditious things about the authorities of Pennsylvania.

The final decision? It's not libel if it's true.

Jamie said...

I just found that after 200 responses, there's another page. Wow. Thanks again to all of you who took the time to read and respond. Brace yourself: I'm garrulous this morning.

I have four thoughts: first, words do indeed have meaning. But they are not the exclusive property of any one political party or perspective. Language is shared, and it is mutable. Lou Franklin asserted that "marriage was between man and woman." Except, as I noted in my letter about "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," when it gets redefined by practice and law. Then it's something else, whether or not you approve of it.

"Prior restraint" is one definition of censorship. But it's not the only one. As pamc noted, the Alien and Sedition Act said you could publish whatever you wanted, but if you published the wrong thing (in that case, an attack on governmental policies), you would be imprisoned. Was that censorship? You bet it was.

Is complaining about a book censorship? No. It's part of the fun of reading. But the suppression of a perspective that is merely controversial ("homosexual marriage is OK") is censorship when adopted as official policy by a governmental subdivision. Librarians resist censorship, and that's a good thing.

Second, I am indeed working, with passion and persistence, to transform my community. It's hardly a secret. I've been writing a weekly newspaper column for 20 years, and it's all there (see / I want a community that thrives: whose children are exposed to a rich stew of language and experience and so enter school ready to read and in love with learning, a community whose start-up and expanding businesses have access to well-organized information about how to be successful, a community whose downtowns are bustling hubs of discussion and public art and civic engagement, a community whose population values and exercises literacy. Pretty radical, eh?

Third, so much of what passes for discourse these days seems to be nothing more than the rhetoric of rage. It comes down to this: attack; before investigation, before simple inquiry, in lieu of simple courtesy. Impute absurd and sinister motives. Demand that the propaganda cease! Unless it's your own propaganda, which is sacrosanct. Claim your rights as a taxpayer to dictate which views may be promulgated -- ignoring that you are not the only taxpayer, and that other taxpayers have different views, and often conflicting demands. That rhetoric -- the identifying characteristic of Baby Boomers and a few Gen Xers -- destroys community. The Millennial generation, if I'm reading this right, is tired of it. So am I.

Fourth and finally, here's the really radical thought to contradict a lot of the rhetoric: We need a clear-eyed but impassioned defense of the public sector. There are many organizations with their hands in my pocket (see my blog entry about "Spending my money to support causes I don't believe in"), but few are as transparent, cost-effective, and beneficial to both my life, and the life of my community, than the public library.

Kim Morris said...

Jamie, I am so glad I went to Reddit this morning, and found this post there. I can not add anything to the comments, it has been a wonderful read, your blog is bookmarked, your book is ordered.
Please tell us, has Mrs. Patron responded to your letter? I can't see how she could refute anything you've written to her. Or was the response another post on the blog. I see I've got some digging to do!
Thank you for the beautiful letter.

librarian carol said...

This is an excellent response. I am a librarian and also a conservative Christian. So I come at this topic from both points of view. As a public library we are here to serve the public. Not just some of them but all of them. So we must have material available for all walks of life. As a Christian and a parent I also felt the need to be involved with what my children were reading. That included forbiding them to read certain books, reading others together, and having open discussion on book content. I think there are some patrons who would like the library to do this job for them. But, as a parent I think this job falls to us. We need to be involved. We need to maybe read the book before we let our child have it, or read it with them. Don't put this off on the library. Just like a bookstore, the patron can pick and choose what they want and not have someone else tell them what to read or not read.

Reverend Frag said...

Wow, you knocked that one out of the park. Yay for considerate librarians!

russ said...

Well done! You are a fine example of humanity and reason.

barth said...

It's great to see a librarian dedicate 2 hours of his time to a patron's complaint about one work in the library collection. I hope the letter has struck a chord with the patron. I guess it depends on the kind of person she is. You treated her with respect and made your views and intentions clear. And the letter is very well written too. I've seen other examples of American librarians standing up for the people's freedom lately. I guess that will earn a lot of them the 'stigma' of 'liberals' in the views of some, but in my view, it provides an example, a lead to be followed by library executives in other parts of the world. Regards.

Reptar_Lives said...

cheers and well done. if only more discourse of issues important to people could be like this, regardless of perspective.

Blaine said...

Thank you.

I was a petitioner (re: I signed an affidavit and went to some protests) on a court case over a similar question that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. Unreasonable amounts of time and money were spent by both sides at the insistence of religiously motivated school board members. It's inspiring to see a librarian taking an active stance on these matters.

nidea said...

Thank you, that was great.

My mother was the head of the children's department around the time of "Heather Has Two Mommies", which also was widely challenged. I'm proud to say the library stood up to the challenge.

CA Librarian said...

One thing I keep wondering as I hear about this issue is: why don't libraries add a "GLBTQ" genre label to their picture books? This would allow patrons who are not morally opposed to homosexuality to teach their children about it, while giving patrons opposed to it a heads' up that the book their child wants them to read is not about a mommy and daddy penguin and their little chick.

In the effort to protect constitutional rights, we must acknowledge that tricking (even unintentionally) parents/children into reading stories that go against their families' moral code is not free speech; it's insensitivity that makes people hostile toward libraries. And I don't think the same thing applies to other controversial issues: suicide, marijuana, etc. are not societal movements on the level of homosexuality, nor do they engender the same amount of political/religious action. "GLBTQ" is a term embraced by the homosexual community, and using it as a picture book genre label is a fair way to give both sides their "freedom."

asha said...

Wonderful. Sane. Bravo!

Jarvis said...

Thank you for writing that letter. It was well thought out and I'm glad you were able to show your point without being disrespectful.

Timothy Travaglini said...

Ha! I did indeed mean to write above that "I had no illusions about librarians...serving as the shock troops."

My mother would tell you that I never could spell.

But that, of course, is why we have *copyeditors*...

Duly chagrined,

Timothy Travaglini
Senior Editor, G. P. Putnam's Sons
Penguin Young Readers Group

LeAnn said...

Yes, this is a great letter! I'm going to save it in my account to re-read it if I'm ever faced with someone trying to bar access like this. Thanks!

freemind27 said...

I came here from stumbleupon. I am from India and I sincerely thank you for this amazing letter.

TinyBraveHeart said...

Very well said, Jamie! I especially appreciated your recognition that the conscientious parent does not hide from the realities of our society, but uses whatever tools that come their way to guide their children's moral development.

As a non-librarian employee of a library system, housed in our local library, I have on occasion been approached by patrons with similar attitudes as the one you responded to (most recently as of last week). Your thoughtful response has been helpful to me in my responsibility of providing good customer service to our patrons.

Thank you again!

Eva G. said...

Excellent response. In the future, when I'm all fired up about lame challenges, I will return to this letter to serve as my guide.

Jamie said...

blaine: great link, and fascinating. Thanks!

ca librarian: it seems like overkill to produce a mysterious label (how many people know what GLBTQ means?) to put on the just 5 or 6 books that have published for children on this theme. For most of the books we're talking about, you could read it faster than you could find someone to explain the label.

Timothy: I just took that as a typo. Not that I ever make thme. :)

CA Librarian said...

Thanks for the response, Jaime. Maybe because of where I live I take it for granted that everybody knows the "GLBTQ" acronym :)

I do have to respectfully disagree, though--I really feel like this is a simple, non-judgmental solution to a problem that right now only one side has satisfactorily resolved. I think if a parent were to come up and complain, and you said, "Let me show you how to avoid that in the future" and showed them the label, the problem would be solved. Right now people are only backing off because they've lost the censorship/free speech/etc. debate, but they're not happy, and they’re not giving up.

I think this would absolutely be worth it for communities where a segment feels the homosexual lifestyle is immoral or wrong--even if the amount of books published on the subject remains small. Parents with these strong beliefs shouldn’t have to read the entire story of every picture book ahead of time (I don’t know about your library, but at ours they check out up to 50 at a time!) any more than a Jewish parent should have to double check every book for a Christmas story--that's one of the reasons we have the "Christmas" genre label.

I do have to say, though, that I do not believe we have even come close to reaching the end of the publishing trend in this area. So while now there are a handful of books on the subject, more and more are being published. Do we want a drag-out fight over every book (as it has been thus far) played out in community petitions and letters to the editor when the information need truly seems to be “How can I make sure that never happens with my child again?”

Jamie said...

ca librarian - I think I understand you, but I still don't agree. As you describe it, the purpose of the label is to say, "stay away from this book!" I think the focus of librarianship needs to be on finding the things you do like, not avoiding the things you don't. And just by the bye, there are too many labels as it is, most of which don't really tell you very much. In the case of GLBTQ, would that mean "a positive portrayal of gay relationships?" Would it apply to "Alfie's Home," which argues that homosexuality can be cured through Christian counseling? Librarians put labels on our books mainly just to tell us where to shelve them. I think that's enough.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

4 works for you Jamie:

Librarian Of The Year

Kenneth said...

>But the purpose of the library is to gather, organize, and present the intellectual resources of our culture.

No it isn't, except by some sleight of hand switcheroo that has been played on the public. Library, by its very name, is a repository of books, no more no less.

By refusing to be librarians, librarians are destroying libraries, breaking a social contract with the population, turning its back on its mandate. Why? Because they got too big for their britches and in a fit of pure guildism are professionalising themselves out of a job. It's something we've seen in a number of other professions, like physical therapy, for example. They forget who they are and why they exist.

Librarians make the mistake of thinking libraries exist for the convenience and pleasure of librarians. It's just as well, if they have so lost sight of their raison d'etre, maybe they deserve to go extinct. The people will get there needs met some other way.

suranganava said...

A colleague sent me this and I thank her for leading me to your blog. What an amazing letter. I honour your acceptance of the human state, the thoughts that people rightly express and especially the clarity, integrity and strength with which you give these thoughts consideration and time. I have had a colleague alert me to 'Londonstani', saying it was racist and I am about to begin reading it. I am so glad to have read your response as it will be central now in how I will try to reach an unbiased conclusion about the content and the comment on racism I've received. Indira@Leichhardt library, NSW, Australia

prosfilaes said...

Kenneth, the etymology of a word does not define it. A motorcycle is not an automobile, despite it being a self-moving vehicle.

It's impossible to discuss whether a library is breaking the social contract with the public without a statement of what the social contract is. As I see it, at least one major goal of a public library in a democracy is to help citizens and future citizens become educated on the issues they need to understand to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens and voters. Excluding material that explains or even promotes a major social viewpoint doesn't fill that requirement; teaching seven-year-olds that society doesn't speak with one voice and that we're currently undergoing debate about the meaning of marriage certainly does fill that requirement.

Daniel said...

This has been a facinating read, the letter and the commentary, and I have enjoyed all of the links dropped as support for one side or the other.

All of the commenters seem to fall into one of two camps. The "this was a wonderful letter" camp and the "this letter justifies a politically motivated decision, while pretending to be objective." I firmly fall into the first camp, and I would like to point out why.

Firstly, the letter is beautifully written and very considerate. Secondly, whether or not you agree with Jamie's decision, it can hardly be said that he is acting in a radical fashion.

In an earlier comment he demonstrated the process that every librarian goes through in deciding which books to purchase. He also points to the ALA's Library Bill of Rights as a justification for why the book was included.

Most of the arguments here are problems with the methodologies of libraries, and not with Jamie in particular. In fact, I would say Jamie has done a brilliant job of following the library code.

It so happens (working in a library on the reference desk) that I agree wholeheartedly with the library's place in society being a "repository for truth" as ammouth so eloquently put it. But that is not really the issue at hand.

Jamie's letter explained why he took the action that he did, and I feel it is perfectly in line with the commonly accepted role of libraries. As to what that ought to be, that is a different debate.

-Daniel Yule

Jamie said...

Kenneth, in response to my comment that "... the purpose of the library is to gather, organize, and present the intellectual resources of our culture," you wrote, "No it isn't, except by some sleight of hand switcheroo that has been played on the public. Library, by its very name, is a repository of books, no more no less."

That *might* capture what libraries once were, but if so, we're talking about more than 100 years ago (and I bet it went back farther than that). Before the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, libraries introduced children's storytimes, vigorous public programming (lectures, book clubs, art exhibits, etc.) and even before that, there were newspapers and periodicals, and even poetry and live music performances. Long before the term was used, libraries were centers of lifelong learning. Or as the Boston Public Library adopted at least a century ago, the library is "the People's University." And that's a GOOD thing.

Boogiepanda said...

Thanks for being awesome. In short, this is exactly what makes libraries and this country so great.

Alessa said...

Holy crap. (Yeah, so I'm not so much with the eloquent.)

Beautiful, insightful, and incredibly well-worded, and has been pointed out before me, FAR more patient and tolerant than I would have been. While I understand that there are people in America who feel that homosexuality is against their religion/credo/ethics/morals/whatever, the fact is that it's out there, it's increasingly common, and sheltering your children from it isn't going to do them any good. It will, however, encourage them to be social pariahs who stick their head into the sand at the first sight of anything they don't like.
I could ramble about the import of parental responsibility, but I won't. :)

And what in all the nine hells is a "Mohammedan"?

Thogek said...

Extremely well written response indeed. I hope (but don't expect) that it encouraged some spark of thought in its recipient...

I, too, especially liked the affirmation that "Our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them." However, I find myself increasingly distraught, these days, that that idea seems to be fading quickly. People today (citizens and elected officials, alike) are only far too ready to force their own morals, standards, and opinions onto others via growing government legislation, one of the very fundamental things this country was founded to get away from.

megan said...

In case you were wondering if people were still happening upon your appears we are! I won't be redundant and talk about how great you are in sharing your well-reasoned, thoughtful, and considerate response for the benefit of all. ;) Rather, I just thought I'd chime in and say that from looking at the (many) responses, it becomes quite clear that your tactic of not assuming any moral high ground and treating the other as though they are just as intelligent and their morals/beliefs are just as valid as yours is quite the rarity. And I appreciate it.

Jamie said...

Welcome all, and thanks again for the comments. Here's a quick report on the readership of this blog thread.

I turned on site visit tracking back in May, when I was getting about 200 visits a month to my blog, with a little over 400 page views. (As I understand this, a visitor is a "session" of use -- so likely an individual reader -- and "page view" includes views of a page or pages during that session.)

In July, when I first posted this thread, visits jumped to 26,472, with 32,334 page views. On July 31, 2008, there were 12,183 visits on one day -- the all time high, I believe.

In August, visits jumped to 26,987, with page views up to 34,710.

More recently, the blog gets about 300-600 visits a day -- more than I used to get in a month. Eighty percent of the time, people are coming to this one thread. But the general traffic to it is definitely falling off. All that's kind of interesting.

What does it mean? Three things, I think.

First, the issue of gay marriage, particularly when presented as a children's book, is something of a cultural flashpoint at this moment in time.

Second, a recurring comment may indicate a real interest in more civil discourse. Clearly, we don't, and won't, all agree about every particular of any topic. Yet most of the people who have taken the time to leave a comment express approval for the courteous tone of my original letter. It is possible to disagree, even strenuously, with a viewpoint. But it is not necessary to malign people's motives or character. I hope to see more of that kind of discussion on the Web. I know I'm not alone.

Third, postings on the blogosphere are both transient and persistent. Other topics will certainly rack up the big page views in the days to come, while older postings fall away. On the other hand, the issue itself won't disappear overnight, so folks will stumble onto this thread for as long as blogspot offers it -- and beyond that, in various Internet archives.

To restate my original intent: I hope that both my original posting, and the commentary, will be of use to the many fine people who work in, or use, libraries.

Dan said...

Dear Jamie,

I find myself more impressed by the nature of your responses (here and at than by your original letter. I refer especially your responses to criticisms, valid, topical, and otherwise.

I am intrigued by the shift in the central focus of controversy that seems to have occurred during the month of August - a shift away from the patron's complaint or the content of the children's book in question and toward the status and purpose of the library system. While I am certain that, as a professional, you're arguments will be better informed than mine, I'd like to take a moment to defend that system.

To perhaps strain an analogy, human societies, however constituted, all share a nearly biological interest in self-preservation at the societal level; societies seek to endure. Like organisms, they grow, develop, and change in reaction to environmental changes, both external and internal.

At this quasi-biological level, libraries are functional and necessary to society. Like the human immune system, they store information in case it might someday be useful.

Some 'forgetting' is essential, but libraries are fundamentally conservative; they'd rather preserve information than allow it to disappear. Like biodiversity in a forest or a well-vaccinated immune system, a society with more diverse information is more likely to endure and successfully adapt. Your more Libertarian critics have denied the utility of libraries to their espoused ideal, abstracted individual, but I submit that the individual is not, ultimately, the intended beneficiary of the library, which is an organ in a larger beast; the society.

Somewhat ironically, the library's inherent conservatism referenced above is often what draws the criticism of political and social conservatives, whose ideology generally involves, to a greater or lesser extent, a belief in a nobler, simpler, more moral, or simply better, past. Without libraries, how would it possible to know about the past that was avowedly so much better than the degraded present or frightening future?

Perhaps the problem is that libraries and librarians so often stubbornly refuse to participate in the exclusion of data that render the 'noble' past as complicated, messy, and, above all, changeable as the present.

All societies choose to endure. Some are able to actualize this choice longer than others. To deny the public function and role of the library is to wish for ours to be relegated to the history shelves of the next civilization's libraries.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to comments, and for doing the work you do every day.

Dan Haracz

Skeeter said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I started to read your responses but decided to skip them and concentrate on my reaction to your letter.

This is why I believe in the importance of that book being accessible to everyone.

When I was 5 years old and knew that I was a boy who liked boys and not girls, there were no resources available to me. I didn't know what it was or what it meant or if it was right or wrong. I was in the Catskills of NY state with a tiny library that shelved nothing in that matter. Believe me, I looked through all 300 books but didn't have the bravery to ask Miss Gardner about it.

If we start believing that we only should have information or an environment around us that conforms to our own individual beliefs, then we cease to be the United States of America.

We are who we are as a country because a group of people decided that one individual belief and ideal was not healthy and went through a lot of hardship and strife coming to that point....actually a point that we are not even at yet because we, as a country, are still debating that fact.

Should it be a fact that books, TV programming, internet sites, billboards, and even the spoken word ought to be mandated by one single belief?

If the only information accessible to those of different beliefs is in an alley, a bar, whispered corner, or hidden church, then we dispel the very reason we founded this country.

I thank God for a library in Lancaster, PA in 1980 for having resources of both pro and con in my quest for discovering myself.

Mrs. Micah said...

Lovely response.

You know what my mother's solution was to keep me from reading books with perspectives she didn't want me exposed to at whatever age? She glanced through them first. Until I was maybe 8-10. It's called parenting. ;)

It seems perfectly logical to me that libraries carry books which have gay characters as much as they carry books which serve other populations. If the book is well-written and desired by a certain tax-paying population, then the library should have it. Or even some crap if it's really that strongly desired by the taxpayers. That's not "activism" or undermining the will of the people---that's letting the people's will be done. The people who don't like it just don't have to read those books, surely there are plenty of others.

It surprises me, therefore, that some people are accusing you of trying to impose values and undermining the taxpayers. Surely they wouldn't demand the library remove its books on learning German or studying for nursing school just because they'll never use them?

Paul Everett Nelson said...

As a reaffirmation of intellectual freedom principles, it's a fine letter, which partially explains the swooning reaction from colleagues. But as a response to a reconsideration request, it's certainly anything but "concise" and in need of some serious editing.

Jamie said...

"Concise" is a virtue. It is, in some respects, like a sound bite. But sometimes, a longer, more detailed rebuttal is necessary. I have noticed that the attention span of the American public is being steadily ratcheted downward. And I'll cheerfully admit that any piece of writing -- mine included -- can be improved by editing. But as I've stated before, my intent in publishing this letter online was not concision, but thoroughness: an attempt to provide a comprehensive response to a series of arguments.

But I loved the photos and observations, Mr. Nelson, on your own blogs. Thanks for the links.

Sadiebug said...

It really is up to parents to decide what is appropriate for their children. This is an excellent letter, and now I want to check out this book. As a parent and a librarian, thank you for a great letter and for pointing out the absurdity of censoring books.

Booster_Rocket said...

Nice letter. If you are as polite in person as you are through email then kudos to you. I only joined blogger so I that I could leave you a comment.

Librarian Carol pretty much summed up everything else I wanted to say.

James said...

That's a great story!Keep up the good work!
Maui Weddings

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d said...

Catching up on some old Mental Floss posts, which is how I found your blog post...

By the way, I think the comment before mine is spam!

In any case, beautiful letter - truly well done. I've always been dismayed when I hear books are banned from libraries due to one issue or another. Even this new "challenging" thing that people do is quite ridiculous to me.

As for those 'righteous' parents out there, God help your children if they turn out to be gay...esp if you get a book like this and say to them "being gay is wrong, and boys can't marry boys". You can call your opinions christian values if you'd like, but that doesn't make it true.

The best part of libraries is the complete access to all - especially those who cannot afford to purchase books.

Jamie said...

I've haven't looked at this in awhile. I think you're probably right about the "christian wedding" comment being spam. But that's pretty funny, isn't it? People looking for "gay wedding" will get linked to a Christian wedding invitation site. Charming!

I also realized that I never responded to the very thoughtful posting by dan about the quasi-biological function of the library to remember things. It's a balancing act; we preserve some things (that get used), and get rid of others (mostly things that don't get used or cited). But I think dan makes an astute observation. The persistent tendency of the human race is to want to erase, revise, reclassify, impugn, malign or ridicule things that contradict the way we think things ought to be. And history has this way of offering up all kinds of evidence suggesting that we are, again, idiots and fools. But books -- and the ideas they contain -- may well serve as a kind of "junk DNA," carrying forward pieces of things essential to our survival that just might be needed again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent model when responding to a book that is challenged. While I have worked in libraries for over 10 years, I only recently moved into the area where I will be encountering a person challenging a children's book. Your respect of the parent was evident as were your reasons that this book under discussion was, indeed, a child's book.


Bethan Ruddock said...

What a wonderful letter! Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

What an utterly wonderful letter. I was alerted to it via a friend's link on Livejournal.

My husband and I (I happen to be a woman :p) have two teenaged children who have not been harmed in the least by growing up knowing of the loving, committed relationships of our various friends - straight and gay couples alike.

Our children, at least, know better than to be knee-jerk bigots about such a trivial thing as the sex of the consenting adult whom another consenting adult might fall in love with and wish to marry. What is FAR more important is how caring, supportive, mature and well-adjusted a committed relationship between two people is.

As for "cypressasianguy" - honestly, his comment comes across as the height of satire, so I sincerely hope he meant it that way... ^^

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a bit late here, but I was just directed to your post by a friend.

All I can say is, Well done! :-)

Blog O' Beth said...

I realize my comment is one of hundreds but I must applaud you. I am an English teacher, a Christian and a mother. I also do not believe in banning or restricting books - EVER. Knowledge is power and as you so wisely pointed out, that even though this mother did not agree with the message being discussed in this book it did not negate the values she has taught her child. On the contrary, it provided her with yet another opportunity to reinforce that very same message. I'm standing in my chair and giving you an ovation! Good for you!

Aman & Biki said...

Everybody is born equal, I would never understand why some people try to control the life of others. Let them live freely, they will develop into better humans. Don't read this, don't read that is all the invention of the minds of sick people. You made a very good decision. exbi chao

MOM said...

Teresa. I am so proud of you..Your students are fortunate to have you..

Anonymous said...

As a Christian who has struggled with homosexuality (yes, I choose to say struggle, as is my freedom), I was in agreement with the patron at the start of the letter. At the end of the letter I agree with the Jamie. Thanks for a wonderful, respectful, convincing, and enlightening letter. If I were her I would concede the point.

I also think that there are a lot of comments on this particular blog post that failed to learn anything from Jaime. His response was respectful, kind, and considerate of many different backgrounds. There are many comments here that do not reflect the same professionalism.

K said...

Bravo Sir! I applaud you! Thank you for your well thought out letter, which I've shared with the other members of my high school English department. Thank you.

maine character said...

What surprises me, between your post and a recent teacher’s blog, is just how dedicated you are not to doing the “right” thing, since that’s a personal opinion, but in creating a place in which issues can be addressed with accurate information and all sides having their say.

One would think there would be the typical liberal knee-jerk reaction (from myself included), in which opposing views are shut out, but that’s not what I’ve found – teachers and librarians actually welcome discussions to deepen their students’ and patrons’ understanding of the issues.

You’re like police and judges – you may well wish to slam someone for something that offends you, but you’re so sworn to the law, that which holds the country together in civil behavior, that you instead step aside and look to the law for what is proper at this time. That’s commendable, and more than I could do in many cases.

As for the issue of gay marriage, that’s not the point of your post, but to the author of the letter I’d point out that the Bible bans marriage to a divorced woman. And yet my brother married one, and she teaches Sunday school. In the end, love and compassion won out.

In the same way, the Bible states one can’t marry one of another religion. Again, time passed, cultures grew in their understanding and acceptance of each other, and love and compassion won out.

The Bible has also been used to back the belief that God forbid the marriage of a man and woman of different races. Laws banning interracial marriage were still standing in all the southern states until the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1967. Without the repeal of those laws, we wouldn’t have Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, and many others, including my best friend in high school, who had a Filipino father. Imagine being in love like that and yet not only told it's against God’s law, but that you’re subject to arrest. Once again, love and compassion won out.

There’s just one more step, and that’s marriage between two people of the same sex. Some will scare you into believing it’s just one more step closer to marrying a goat, but don’t buy into it. Look to the past and see the fruit of those actions. See what hatred and prejudice has fallen by the way.

I’m not saying I want to see men kissing on the corner – that doesn’t appeal to me any more than to you. But for a children’s book to present gay marriage as something as ordinary as a child having parents of different race, that’s simply showing how things are and allows you the opportunity to answer any questions your child may have, just as they might about Hawaiian traditions, sushi, adoption, or why people throw rice at weddings. It allows them to go into the world with a greater understanding and meet people of different cultures and experiences with far less confusion and fear.

Jane said...

Sigh. If only Congress could be so reasoned, articulate and respectful of others' positions, we might actually end up with a healthcare bill that would truly reform and improve the system and people's lives.

Janice said...

Excellent attention to a letter that must have been difficult to receive, much less read with any serious consideration. Your response to the letter wasn't in the least condescending and your tone one in which I would hope more discussions about issues would adopt.

I hope the reader actually read your entire letter and gave your response and research as much thought to the crucial subject of freedom of speech as you did.

If an appeal is to be waged, then I'm confident you have the backing of a fine board and will present an ever more convincing view of our basic rights that might help enlighten the rising dark cloud of denial in this country.

suthrngrl said...

I am glad to see this discussion continuing for such a long time. I'm here because this discussion was offered on the Word A Day page in conjunction with the word "comstockery." I have not read all the comments, but of the comments I've read, everyone has remained civil and on track. I am in agreement that the book should remain in the library. I have printed out the banned book list for this year, and found it to be mostly amusing. My personal experience has shown me that anything banned will usually be sought out with great determination!

I was led to re-read Hansel and Gretel after reading your blog. I didn't not remember the wicked stepmother at all! What does that say about the influence of the story? All I remembered was that they got lost and ended up at the gingerbread house and the wicked witch wanted to eat them. Once I re-read the story, it all came back!

Maren and Peter said...

Well said, Jamie. The world is made up of all kinds of people. Children this age are trying to figure out how the world works and she should use this book as an opportunity to teach her child about the wonderful variety of people in the world. I have a feeling she would be teaching her something that I personally don't believe, but it is her perogative. Even if she doesn't, I appreciate the thought you put into your response.

Iain said...

Brilliant writing - to avoid even the hint of patronisation must have taken some self control. Lou Franklin is, I suspect, a repressed homosexual who has enormous anger that he has not been allowed to bve himself by the society in which he grew up. In other words - you should feel very sorry for him.

Theena said...

That was inspiring. Thank you, sir.

Julie said...

Fabulous letter. So well thought out and kindly expressed. Civility is not dead, hooray!

Judith said...

Thank you for this wonderful, well-reasoned letter that did not dismiss the mother's concerns, but answered them. It cheered me greatly in a week when (as a temporary Census survey employee) it is easy to become disillusioned about the cynicism and ignorant prejudice with which we citizens view our government and its many services (including the free public library, one of the greatest!). Thank you, thank you.

Artful Dodger said...

Hasn't anybody figured out that Cypressianguy was pulling our collective leg?

That aside, allow me to add my appreciation to the many admiring comments already posted.

I'll send your letter far and wide,
though in most cases, I'll be preaching to the choir! The problem lies in reaching those who have never read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and even if they know our founding documents, put their Biblical literalism ahead of our democracy.

Rock on!

centauri said...

I also came here from a link in today's A.Word.A.Day email. This week's theme is Banned Books Week.

Thank you for posting this letter. I hope it had as positive an effect on its intended recipient as it appears to have had on many of the people who replied.

Thank you also for using a respectful tone. I've had to stop following certain other bloggers because their strident, reactionary tone made me feel uncomfortable for being on their "side." Using a civil tone is never wrong, difficult though it may be.

googlegroupsalot13 said...

I disagree with just about everything everyone else has said. We can use lots of great sounding words like "reason" and "treatment of topic" and such, but we cannot get around the fact that small children should not be targeted by those promoting the homosexual agenda. Use all the nice wrapping paper you want, but the book is not appropriate for children!

Dan/i said...

What a thoughtful, compassionate, beautiful response to your patron, especially on issues that can be very emotional. Thank you for sharing it with us.


Darla said...

It was a link in the week's first AWAD which led me here. And I'm glad it did. Bravo, Jamie, bravo! (I'll be posting a link from my own blog.)

AlexxKay said...

Excellent letter!

Have you read _Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence_, by Gerard Jones? It covers similar ground to _The Uses of Enchantment_, but from a more recent perspective, with newer research.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I see that the link I encountered to this is not recent, but I wanted to thank you for the work you do.

Because I believe that people who do good things should be supported with more than good words and I saw you mentioned your book in the comments, I have added it to my personal library acquisition list for when I have the money. So that's a nickel of royalties you'll get for being one of the good guys. ;)

Anonymous said...

Stumbled across this blog entry today and it fits nicely with a quote from Richard Nixon's 1969 inagural address:

"In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.

We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another -- until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices."

Kudos to Jamie for his patience and level-headedness at a time in our history when (unfortunately) those qualities seem in short supply.

WDL said...

hurray for you! hurray for being an upstander!

you rock! and this made my day!


zoe said...

I believe this should be engraved onto a sign and posted in every public library across the states:

"Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life."

accurate and detailed response hopefully enlightened her viewpoint

Alistair Scott said...

An excellent letter. It should be highlighted in 'Banned Books Week' which is to be held in the last week of September.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad a friend of mine shared a link to this letter! I appreciate the way you addressed all of her concerns with tact, factual information, and gentle directions for her to continue her own research. As someone who grew up with two bibliophile parents, I applaud any parent who wants to instill a love of reading in his/her child. And also support instilling good values in children, whatever the parent(s) believe those to be.

While I may or may not agree with this particular parent, I do agree with Jamie (and a number of other responders): if you want to ensure that a book is 'proper' for your child, read it before they do. It's the same as with any media: some video games, films, TV programs, and other forms of entertainment may not be appropriate for every child.

Thank you, Jamie. I have yet another notch of respect for librarians.

Anonymous said...

If a book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But for God's sake, let us hear both sides if we choose. -Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

masscritique said...

I reached your blog through A Word A Day, I shall be copying it into a folder on my desktop as a reminder of how to craft an effective response, especially when there is smoke coming out my ears. Dear googlegroups, that's your opinion, the library will not revoke your borrowing priveleges if you refuse to read this book to children.

tsgeisel said...

I just came upon this post, long after the fact, and am wondering if anything ever came of it?

Joe Colannino said...

Your letter, though thoughtful, is misguided. Objective evidence shows that homosexuality is destructive to society, to its practitioners, and especially to children. As a rule, adults have the wherewithal to evaluate such grave choices; young children do not. I presume that you would not allow titles in your library such as "Timmy Makes a Bomb" or "Sarah and the Crack Lab" despite the fact that every argument you have made regarding free speech and liberty would apply equally well to these titles also. You clearly have a gift for writing. I often wish that we all could disagree as agreeably as you have done here. But your soothing style does not pardon what is ultimately a double standard.

Steph H said...

I think the simplest way for me to comment is:
My gosh, you seem an awesome librarian.
I just wanted to share my appreciation that people like you exist in the wider world, as well as in positions of influence within the community. GREAT work.

Arielle said...

Thank you for this beautiful letter. :)

yvette roman davis said...

What an incredible, diplomatic letter. I am inspired. I will reread this letter next time I have to address a conflict - thank you for this...

prosfilaes said...

Joe, "objective evidence" is a much more complex, hairy thing then you imply. "The Kallikak Family" is "objective evidence" that feeblemindness is a simple Mendelian trait, and was so accepted at the time, despite the fact that modern experts think the primary problems of the Kallikak family were poor nutrition and fetal alcohol syndrome. If and when our society changes to firmly reject homosexuality, it might be time to reanalyze whether it belongs in the children's section, but at that point it will probably have been worn out and publishers will neither reprint it nor print new books along its lines, because they won't sell, just like "Timmy Makes a Bomb" and "Sarah and the Crack Lab" are purely hypothetical books desired by no member of the community.

Jamie said...

I was surprised today to find a link to this through Word a Day. Hello, all. A couple of comments.

* What happened after my response? I got two more letters. One, received right after the first, I replied to with a copy of this. A second spoke about the attempt to launch a petition effort. I responded to that one with a different letter, which I summarize in another blog entry (search for "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" in the blog search box to get the three entries I've written on this topic). After my responses, however, I never heard from any of the original complainants again. The book remains in our collection. I consider the matter resolved.

* Joe, I dealt with this issue of made-up books that no one wrote, or would be likely to write, or would be likely to be published by mainstream publishers, or would be likely to be reviewed for libraries, or would be likely to be purchased by libraries, much earlier in the comments. I'm afraid you have resorted to the classic "straw man" logical fallacy. (Wikipedia has a nice definition.) As I clearly stated in my letter, what makes a children's book isn't the topic; it's the treatment. This is a well-executed children's book about a young girl worried about losing her favorite uncle. He (and his spouse) happen to be gay. And they seem to be pretty nice people, for guinea pigs.

* Other recent posters. Thank you for the kind words.

Joe Kort said...

I am thrilled that this conversation keeps going. It is so necessary to end bigotry and prejudice.

For those of you who think that homosexuality is destructive to children, tell to my niece and nephews who love and adore me and who know I am gay and love me and their uncle Mike.

They don't think about us having sex, they think about our love and our committment to one another. Children are innocent. Adults are the ones negatively transferring their fears and prejudice onto children.

Ask the children themselves. Better yet, watch Rosie O'Donnell's, "All Aboard" in which she portrays lesbian and gay families with their children.

Anonymous said...

Jamie...first of all, yours was a masterful 'free speech' treatise disguising as a letter! It should be posted near the front of libraries from coast to coast (but only if the librarian has provided a bulletin board and is so moved to post). As a former radio DJ in several major markets and a TV co-anchor, I've received my share of negative calls and earsful about various comments I've made and records I've played. My ripostes were much less kind than your masterful response, going something like this: "Look, I can't tell you how uninterested I am in the opinion of a person who is too lazy to turn the dial (change the channel)." Hey, I was an ego-driven, smart-ass DJ and usually got away with my crummy comments without retribution from station management. However, there was ONE owner reprimand which caused me to think verrry carefully about repeated listener-shots. So, I revised my comment to something like, "Just because you own a radio (TV) does that imply that you own stock in the station?" Somewhat less confrontive, but each pales in comparison to your statesman-like explanation to the objecting parent. Hoo-Rah, Jamie.
- Dan McCurdy | Sherman, Texas

Sus said...

I love how considerate, thoughtful, and professional you are. Well done. You should get a raise, doing your job this well. :)

WLW said...

Outstanding. Simply outstanding! Please keep up the good work and spreading the idea that libraries shouldn't be in the practice of censoring ideas.

I think I'll go make a donation to my local library now. Thank you for the inspiration!

Alan said...

I was most impressed by the way you handled what could have developed into a difficult confrontational situation, with very hurt feelings on the part of the lady who objected to "Uncle Bobby's Wedding". I think you kept a great perspective on all counts. Thanks for showing that thoughtfulness is always the better solution.

Alan Bennett (from France)

Julie said...

I agree that this is a finely and thoughtfully constructed response to the always-delicate issue of censoring or labeling "speech" of any form.

BUT, I think the issue is far more complex and of legitimate ambiguity from the perspective of those who make the opposite argument - not of censorship, but of applying judgment on what is age-appropriate or age-inappropriate.

For example, does social and cultural context, of either the story setting or the time-period of publication, play a role in mitigating or raising concerns about age-appropriateness? In this case, the story is about same-sex relationships and the "legitimacy" of marriage between same-sex partners. In our times, that is now an "accepted" part of our social setting. But, is there no line to be drawn anywhere on what topics are age-appropriate for a library? How about incest portrayed in a normal and socially acceptable story-theme? How about polygamy, child marriage, female genital mutilation, slavery, and on and on - all topics that are considered legitimate and practiced in different social and cultural settings in various parts of the world. My point is: are there no circumstances under which it would be legitimate for libraries to atleast segregate these "childrens books" into an appropriately labeled category so patrons have an opportunity to be informed and forewarned about material that is sensitive when viewed from our cultural norms and the values we look to inculcate in our children?

Brev said...

You are to be commended for such a well-written, thoughtful, sensitive letter. Your response obviously took a lot of time, which is all the more commendable. God bless you and other librarians who thoughtfully promote reading of whatever for us all! Brev Moore

Stacie said...

What a thoughtful letter and a wonderfully civil contribution to public discourse! Hurrah!

jason said...

Beautifully written! If only there were some political office completely devoted to the protection of free speech. I'd vote for you.

Johnson said...

Have to wonder if you even read these comments anymore. Regardless, some one has posted this blog on Twitter recently so it's new to me. Kudos to your well thought-out, educated, and rationale response. But also, more impressively, for your patience to respond civilly, even to the comments posted in response. I tend to revert to choking rage when faced with similar arguments, so cheers!

Brandon said...

First, I would like to commend this letter for its well reasoned reply and fine structure. The applause goes on, sir.

Now, some people seem to have taken @cypressasianguy 's comment seriously. Personally, I started reading it as a serious statement, but by the end I had passed it off as satire (albeit not the best example I'd seen of it). That particular post seemed, to me, a joke that was taken the wrong way. Maybe it wasn't funny.

I apologize if this has been mentioned above already, but I only read about halfway down the comments before responding. Again, very nice, Jamie.

Laurie said...

What a wonderful response! I wish books like this were available to me when I had to explain to my son that his father was gay ... My young son would have enjoyed learning that other children also had gay family members and that they were still a family. It was a "normal" situation for him, and it would have been nice for him to see books with gay characters. Children need to learn about various types of families and the publication of these books is hope that our society is moving towards acceptance of people who often cannot accept themselves. One thing she does not mention: many people who aren't religious could easily take offense at the moral situations presented in many Christian themed books. If the child of an atheist took home a book about Easter, or Christmas, or pre-marital abstinance would that parent have any easier a time explaining their family's belief system? Would it be any easier for a mom to explain why her family doesn't go to church or aren't legally married when the kids in stories have more typical families? Difficult-to-explain situations arise for parents all the time. The complaintant could easily use any "objectionable" book to reinforce the belief system in which she is raising her own child, the same way many of us have to explain to our children why other people live differently and make different moral choices. Thanks for your response and for keeping the book in your collection and not hiding it in the parenting collection.

Paul Cienfuegos said...

i also very much liked this! one correction regarding the following paragraph:

"The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified."

it isn't true. the bill of rights (the first 10 amendments to the constitution) were written years after the main document was finalized - and those 10 were created primarily because the public was so outraged that the elite men of the time had appointed themselves in total privacy to write the constitution with zero input from the public. and it showed! the rabble was outraged by its primary focus on the protection of private property and demanded additional rights for the rest of us. so that final sentence above is dead wrong. and its interesting that the writer does not know this.

Jeff said...

Another fan. Remarkable letter.

Jamie said...

Paul: not quite. Although the text of the Constitution was completed in 1787 and the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, the ratification process for the Constitution, and the many debates that went on around it, called for the incorporation of a variety of freedoms already sketched out in the English Bill of Rights and the Virginia Declaration of Rights. States were promised that that would happen as a condition of their ratification. So I stand by my statement.

emosun said...

Jamie, If I may paraphase - "It's hard to protect First Amendment rights when libraries are official government agencies."

Jessica said...

Just wanted to add another place this was linked from:

I enjoyed your post and your well-reasoned response comments immensely.

Anonymous said...

Ha...what nonsense. No, our founding fathers did -not- conceive of the purpose of this country in terms of individual liberty, certainly not as this librarian claims. A mere study of the actual laws governing individual states immediately before and after the American Revolutionary War should dispel that nonsense. Even in cultures tolerant of homosexuality (such as Plato's Greece), homosexual marriage was unheard of.

Yes, the book is designed to normalized homosexual marriage; yes,
parents do have the right to take issue with this; yes, a library is
beholden to its community, especially the community that -pays for it-; and yes, the community can decide what books are in and what
books are out.

Equating a book designed to normalize homosexual marriage with books about divorce and alcoholism is a fundamentally dishonest move that assumes most people share the same view about homosexual marriage.
Most people believe divorce is a bad thing, even when necessary;
almost everyone believes alcoholism is a bad thing, except for
alcoholics in denial.

But we as a nation are far more deeply divided on the issue of gay
marriage. This move on the part of the library wasn't thoughtful
respect and consideration for alternative points of view. It's a
clear attempt at the imposition of -one point of view- about a topic
upon which we are -completely divided-.

Doubt me on this point? How many children's books can be found in
this library that explicitly and deliberately -condemn homosexual
marriage-, especially books targeted for the same age group? Is there a single one? Would this library purchase one should a title be recommended? Or would it refuse to do so, claiming that doing so would violate the principles of "tolerance."

The library has no concern for freedom of expression or the valuation of other points of view, just the promotion of its own.

Anonymous said...

And, for a case in point, all US colonies except for Georgia had explicit anti-sodomy laws:

--This wording made it clear that only the laws already recognized by Georgia in 1776 were to be continued. Since sodomy never had been a crime in the state, sodomy would remain legal until the legislature acted. This point is important, because at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791, Georgia was the only one of the 13 colonies without criminal penalties for sodomy, either by statute or common law. Two centuries later in the Bowers v. Hardwick case, Justice Byron White would make a major error by claiming that, since sodomy was criminal in all 13 colonies, the right to engage in sodomy was not a fundamental liberty. Further discussion of this point will be with the detailed analysis of the Hardwick case.__

In fact most, if not all, US states had anti-sodomy laws until the 1970s, and many still have these laws in place:

The idea that the Founding Fathers conceived of "individual liberty" in a sense inclusive of gay marriage is a ridiculous lie.

Amelia Witherspoon said...

Your argument is so well-reasoned and logical! I love that you address each point of the parent's letter in a calm, professional and unbiased manner. I hope the parent took your words to heart; these two passages certainly resonated with me.

"How then, can we claim that the founders would support the restriction of access to a book that really is just about an idea, to be accepted or rejected as you choose? What harm has this book done to anyone? Your seven year old told you, “Boys are not supposed to marry.” In other words, you have taught her your values, and those values have taken hold. That's what parents are supposed to do, and clearly, exposure to this book, or several, doesn't just overthrow that parental influence. It does, of course, provide evidence that not everybody agrees with each other; but that's true, isn't it?...

"Finally, then, I conclude that 'Uncle Bobby's Wedding' is a children's book, appropriately categorized and shelved in our children's picture book area. I fully appreciate that you, and some of your friends, strongly disagree with its viewpoint. But if the library is doing its job, there are lots of books in our collection that people won't agree with; there are certainly many that I object to. Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life."

thnidu said...

Thanks to a friend who tweeted about this. Excellent! I have linked to it from my LJ blog.

-- Loving a librarian for 41 years

Mike said...

Well, we could get rid of all the books on homosexuality, non-Christian religions, street violence, drugs, socialism, communism, single parent families, hunger, poverty, war and everything else that someone finds offends their sensibilities...

But why bother with a library, then?

Oh, and while I have no personal objections to gay relationships or marriages, there IS a case to be made for it being "unhealthy." I don't agree with that case, but it has been made by legitimate scholars.

There are also cases made that modern diet is unhealthy, meat is unhealthy, alcohol is unhealthy, pot, driving in cars, cell phones, you name it.

It's interesting that the side defending a minority position as "normal" will then insist that criticism of that position is "wrong." There are no absolutes except the ones we like.

keshlam said...

Another "right on" for the letter. Very good job of saying "I understand where you're coming from, I respect where you're coming from, but we really did consider those points in the context of _all_ our patrons, and while we regret having displeased you we have to recognize that other choices displease others and make the most balanced decision we can."

I'm a bit disappointed that the comments haven't all managed to stay on that level.

tuesday said...

I really appreciated the tone of this letter (except for the "you and some of your friends" part, which, as another poster said, came off as a bit condescending and dividing), and I want to tell you why. I sympathized with the woman in this letter. I would never challenge a book, because I do believe in freedom of speech, but I definitely am concerned sometimes about what the children in my life might stumble upon unawares in the library. And if you don't have the idea in your head of the library as a stronghold of intellectual freedom—and I imagine a lot of people have never really thought about it that way—I can see how challenging a book seems like the next logical step. This woman was worried about her child and this was her natural, protective reaction. It's possible and even likely that she didn't realize what she was potentially opening herself up for.

And it could have been a very negative response she got. Many posters on this blog have casually or even proudly stated that when faced with this question, their first response would be one of derision or unkindness. You, however, treated her question with respect, tried to understand where she was coming from, and gave well-thought out answers to her concerns, and I appreciated that.

As a conservative Christian myself, I have spent most of my life being told by certain segments of the population—chiefly those who consider themselves open-minded—that my beliefs are outdated, ignorant, and just plain stupid. Isn't it tragically funny that those who claim to be open-minded can sometimes be the least tolerant of other people's beliefs? What these self-proclaimed free thinkers sometimes fail to understand is that if they are truly free thinkers, if they truly believe in freedom of speech, then they ought to feel that this patron's opinion is equally as valid as their own. I've heard multiple people, when discussing this and similar subjects, quote Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." If someone supports that idea, though, what that really means is that they should defend someone's right to write a children's book with gay marriage in it, but they should also defend someone else's right to be offended by it. I feel like you’ve come closer to it than a lot of other people who’ve tried; you backed up the idea of free speech by actually allowing this woman to express her opinion.

What I’m trying to say is that as someone who is trying hard to both live by her personal beliefs and allow others to live by theirs, and also as an MLIS student who is wondering what she’ll do when books are challenged in her library in the future, I appreciated this letter as an example of how to create a truly open-minded discourse.

Jamie said...

I realized I never responded to this point the first time it was raised in the comments. Although I didn't cite it in my letter, the patron also wrote (after quoting the pledge of allegiance, "with liberty and justice for all") "That 'all' includes my view as a conservative mother and the belief of many of my friends who are standing behind with their 110% approval." So my reference to her friends was just a response to another one of her statements.

CKHB said...

Thank you for this! I have just posted a link to this page in the comments section of my own blog post on the topic of this year's Banned Book Week.

maarow said...

An amazing letter, to be sure.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that most people who seek to ban books won't be dissuaded by anything as trivial as logic or civility.

Silbena said...

I know that this will probably just sink into the sea of replies--

and I wanted to write so much more but I don't have the words, I don't know how to describe how I feel, so

-- I love you for writing this letter.

Thank you.

The Chemist said...

I couldn't read all the comments here.

Let me start by saying that our esteemed poster is perhaps one of the better kind of person out there. Not simply because he wrote an excellent, diplomatic letter that did not compromise his principles and those of his profession. But also for the simple reason that he started a sentence with "Because..." without shame or fear, and yet with the skill and craft of someone who uses language. People like this are few and far between. I commend you sir!

The rest of the letter is of course excellent in terms of content. I recently applied to volunteer at my local library and haven't heard back from them. This reminds me to check back with them.

Let me finish (sadly) by pointing out that cypressasianguy is a troll who is trying to derail the thread. Atheists in general I have no problem with, including the evangelists like Dawkins (who in the spirit of discussing books has written a new one on science that I've heard is rather good).

However running around and painting Christians with a broad brush and calling Muslims "Mohammedans" despite the fact that they object forcefully (and with accuracy) to that characterization is unacceptable and tantamount to bigotry. You can object to religion as strongly as you like without having to imply that every believer is somehow a despicable snake in the grass.

But I have fed the troll enough, and advise against others doing so.

Mr Steve said...

What an incredible response-- thoughtful, poignant, and patient (even with a person who may not deserve it).

Oh, and also Patron: I don't know how much time you spend at the library, but it turns out you don't have to check out every book that's on the shelves. You can actually make the choice not to. Although, why a loving relationship between two woodland creatures of any gender threatens you is beyond comprehension.

BotlGnomz said...

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

I'm a conservative Christian. While my conviction regarding the separation of church and state comes down hard against any sort of religiously-motivated censorship (and censorship in general, really), I am fairly certain I share similar beliefs regarding the morality of homosexual conduct as the individual who sent this letter. Beliefs that are not shared by the vast majority of the non-religious public.

And so I thank you. For treating my fellow believer not as an ignorant hick, but as someone who can be educated on the importance of an impartial public library system. Thank you for treating her feedback as important enough to respond to in so thorough a manner. Thank you for respecting that we hold what is, in this day, a fairly unpopular view, and not bringing that into it. The entire letter was about libraries, books, pedagogy, and the role of parents in raising their children, and never once about the validity or lack thereof of the belief that motivated the letter.

I don't agree with her actions, but I understand why she did it. In a day where personal attacks and stereotypes against us for holding some of our beliefs are common (and, I was saddened to see, made it into the comments), you treated this entire issue with exceptional sensitivity and grace.

So, as a Christian, a freedom-loving American, and a part-time librarian, thank you.

(Here from Neil Gaiman's twitter,

Simon Rudd said...

Brilliant letter! :D

Tinder said...

I read "The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales" for my dissertation years ago... Wonderful book!
As for your response.. wonderful! In this age of unnecessarily over protecting children from dangers that are only dangers if twisted around in the hands of adults it is wonderful to see. Thank you!

A said...

This is a wonderful letter. I wish if I ever have to defend something, I do it as well.

I can testify to the importance of books like that. The fact that my school librarian made a point of having books about homosexual characters, even in our our conservative prairie town, really helped me a lot as a teenager. I appreciate her doing that to this day.

Sadly, when she took me and some other kids out to help her pick out new books, I was just good for fantasy picks. Dang.

Lauren said...

I was given this link via @neilhimself on Twitter. The author of Good Omens.

Thank you for writing a articulate and valid argument. As a page through high school at our public library, I was exposed to some of the most thought provoking books imaginable. Books, that if some of our taxpayers would've known were in our stacks, would have taken serious action to remove them.

I find that people have lost sight about what libraries are. They are open to giving all the people all the information and/or reading material that is out, or has been out in circulation for everyone to read, for free. That is what a true democracy is supposed to provide.

I find the argument, "I pay taxes" a cop out. If we actually listened to our patrons and bought only the books they wanted, our library would be the most boring place imaginable. Books are meant to inform, inspire or thought prevoke.

There are plenty of books, music magazines and other media that our library provided that I found offensive to me. Some of these books were very male chauvinist, but I don't think they should be banned.

To ban something is to tear a viewpoint out of humanity. Individualism is the basis of our democracy.

By offering all different types of books (bland or controversial) it offers a starting point for the reader to make a viewpoint of their own.

In this case, the book isn't about gay marriage. It just happened to have gay marriage in it. If you feel strongly about it, talk to your children about it, and put the book back. If you don't want to read that to your child, then read it first, then don't check the book out.

As I have told patrons in the past, take the journey, if you don't like it, learn from it, and find another journey (book).

And remember, everyone in this country is a taxpayer. All viewpoints are to be represented. If you don't like it, go to a book store and buy what you like, and put it in your own personal library. Don't dictate to libraries what they should put in theirs. You might be taking books that other people want to read away from them. I don't pay my taxes to have that happen either.

Thanks again. You're the reason why I still love the public library.

kitrona said...

I know you're probably not reading comments anymore, Jamie, but I wanted to thank you for reminding me of something important: Whether or not I agree with someone's point of view or values, that "someone" is still a person, and entitled to respect and consideration AS A PERSON, the respect and consideration for me to say, "Hey, my views are different from yours, and if you're objecting to mine, let me explain in a way that doesn't just dismiss you as part of "THAT GROUP", as if all individuals in a group are homogeneous carbon copies of each other. I will explain in a way that recognizes that you try to be a good person in the best way you know how; you're approaching it differently than I am, but that's ok. And we may not ever agree; that's also ok. But we can try to understand each other and treat each other as HUMANS."

I know that I personally had lost sight of that, what with the entertainment value and easy availability of snark and the like. But snark doesn't actually engender understanding; it's more likely to make people angry and embarrassed when it's directed at them, thus entrenching their views about "those people" further and removing any possibility of discourse or understanding.

Thank you for this reminder. There are PEOPLE behind every "stereotypical" belief-espouser; they are not their beliefs or opinions, they are people who hold these beliefs or opinions, and should be treated as people first and foremost.

As cheesy as it sounds, I now have a role model, or at least good behavior to pattern my own after, and a level of such to aspire to. For that, I cannot thank you enough.

Matthew said...

Just fantastic. Your reasoned, patient and thorough approach is something I would love to have!

teacherjulia said...

I came here via @neilgaiman on twitter. Great letter. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Simply beautiful. As a fellow librarian, I thank you not only for providing us with such a fine exemplar, but also for the way in which you keep the discussion open-- with your patron, and with us, in your comments. Free speech *is* all about the dialogue, isn't it?

Oh, and I think your 15 minutes aren't quite up yet-- I just came here via a retweet from Neil Gaiman.

lionmother said...

What a great letter!

If only every librarian were able to answer the onslaught of prejudiced and small minded people who want them to take books off of the shelves! I applaud your ability to tell this woman exactly what democracy is all about in a way that was till tactful and tasteful.

I liked your letter so much I am going to refer the readers of my blog to it. I came to you through a twitter post and I'm glad I found you! As a former teacher and a writer I am thrilled to see such honesty and dedication to the truth. Please go here to see the post:

Zoe said...

Wow, I applaud you on your thoughtful, considerate, and reasonable letter.

I don't think I could ever be a librarian. I would find it far too hard to balance my desire to respect peoples views and my personal disgust at most of those views...
People trying to teach their children homosexuality is 'wrong' (with the best of intentions I'm sure) is one thing I don't think I could respond to calmly or politely.

R F Long said...

What a wonderful post and a wonderful letter. As a librarian and a writer I applaud what you've written here. I also appreciate the kindness inherent in your tone. It's a difficult situation to deal with and you dealt with the situation with grace.

Thank you.

Judith said...

I just started my Masters in Library Studies, and I enjoyed reading this letter of yours. One of the fields I'd like to work would be in the children's/young adults section, and it gives a good example as to how to deal with such a request. Thank you for this insight, on how you handled this situation, how you were not scared to do quite a lot of research to prove your point, etc. Thank you again.

CrankyGeezer said...

Absolutely wonderful post. I'm bookmarking it for future reference. If you're ever in the Richmond, VA, area, or I'm in your area, I'd be delighted to buy you the beverage of your choice as recognition of your work.

stellanite said...

I'm sure you're getting lots of new blog comments after being mentioned by Neil Gaiman,so let me continue to add to them : thank you for writing such a thoughtful,reasonable letter. I feel that my own response would have been defensive and frustrated, had I been in your place. Instead, you treated the parent with respect and consideration. Great job!

allison j. sebastian said...

excellent letter.

Laurie said...

Trypho Celsus - do you have a blog? would be interested to hear more about what you have to say as you seem genuinely interested in advancing the conversation.

James said...


That's all I can say. Well done.

Michael Hart said...

What on earth is wrong with the Internet today? Where are all the mad, raving lunatics and baiting, spiteful trolls?

I for one am shocked at the level of decency shown by the hundreds of commenters here. There has been, literally, less than 1% vitriol (on either side, no less).

All this thoughtful, rational kindness is making me feel very strange. Where's the Internet I grew up with!? Help.

Monkeh said...

This is a fantastic blog and I can't express enough how pleased I am to see a coherent, intelligent, reasoned argument on this subject. I have never understood the argument that children are too young to learn about these things. Children are compelled to learn; they want to know the whys and wherefores of the world around them, and this should be encouraged! I am an atheist, raised a catholic, and I believe in teaching my children about all the world religions, about different points of view, because knowing that your way of life is not necessarily right or superior is priceless, for both children and adults. I must admit I am somewhat perplexed by the christian mother who said she would not want her children reading "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" despite understanding and accepting it's inclusion in your library. While I applaud her for her open-mindedness, I don't understand why should wouldn't want her children reading this book. If my children decide to convert to a religion, I will support their decision even if it's not one I would personally make - this is precisely why I teach them about the wider world, because their path is not mine to choose. I would have thought that letting your children read a book such as 'Uncle Bobby's Wedding', despite the viewpoints not matching your own, would be a wonderful thing because it gives the children the freedom to make up their own mind. Of course, it's not up to me, and that's fine.

Anyway, I applaud you and your actions, you have revived my faith in humanity!

DirtyLawsFilm said...

Thank you for writing this letter. I will refer back to it many times I am sure.

Mail said...

Well said.

Eileen said...

I got pointed to your response to the patron requesting reconsideration of Uncle Bobby's Wedding by Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed. He did a great justice by pointing out your fine response.
I can only hope that time will heal the unfortunate minds who believe that bigotry and hate are acceptable paths in life. In the meantime, your letter is incredibly sane and well-reasoned. I applaud you.

Egg said...

Well said, sir! Thank you.

Jarvis said...

That was an amazing letter. You, sir, make me proud of our library system. It fills me with cheer to know there are people like you out there fighting to preserve the written word.

Stephanie said...

I just thought you'd like to know that Neil Gaiman linked to this post on his blog today, as part of a discussion about Banned Book Week. You might get a few more comments.

And fantastic letter, as well.

TimOttinger said...

Okay, but twice as long, twice as pointed, half as effective as it could have been. Likely to be poorly-received.

I was once told "Write *to* the reader, not *from* yourself."

Polter-Cow said...

This is an amazing letter. Thank you for responding so thoughtfully and coherently and letting us all read it.

Gnomon said...

What a beautiful discussion. What a grand notion that even in our increasingly angry frustrated land some folks still take it as a basis that people they disagree with are to be treated with thoughtful respect. Thank you

Lilithcat said...

I came here via a link to this entry that was posted in the LibraryThing forums.

Yours was one of the finest, most thoughtful discussions of this issue that I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot.


Anonymous said...

I came over here after a link from the author Neil Gaiman's blog. Would guess that all librarians know him since his latest YA book; The Graveyard book won this years Newbury award and has just spent 52 weeks on NY times childrens book list.

Anyhow, to come to the point here.
All the praise above, I don't need to repeat. An amazing letter written as well as it could be.

I worke in a school library in Sweden for some time and one section of our library never had any books in it, because kids was so eager to get their hands on them. It was waitinglists to get these books.

The subject was child abuse. Sub categories was violence, alcoholism, neglect and sexual abuse.

One girl began to trust me during the time I worked there and she was one of the kids on the waiting list for some of these books.
One day I asked the girl, Why do you want to read about such a sad topic so urgently?

Her replied stunned me: Because it makes me feel that I am not alone having things done to me.

I believe that these "small genre" books are of enormous importance. I was 20 years younger then I am now, when this girl talked to me, and still today I can not walk into a library and see how stocked or empty those shelves are.

A book about two men getting married doesn't even make me raise an eyebrow, probably cause I am from Sweden and same sex couples are married all the time and I believe since I left that the right to adoption has been finalised.

But if there is a child back there (in the US since 5 years) who has problem coming to terms with her aprent marrying someone of the same sex, then this book should be put on display and highlighted.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting, well-written letter. This is a wonderful letter.

San Luis Library Teens said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response on Uncle Bobby's Wedding. I appreciate the fact that you took such a thorough approach to a topic that does mean a lot to many of our library patrons. I struggle to let people know that our library tries to represent all our constituents, including conservative Christians. It is nice to see the fairness of representation explained.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie!

I too enjoyed your response, and the discussions that followed. You should know you have been posted on the LibraryThing website in the Banned Books Group as well.


fashionpop said...

Pure pablum. Moral relativism run amok is what we have here... very eloquently and finely crafted moral relativism.

The truth is some people refuse to accept that there is an Absolute Truth. There is absolute right and wrong and it is clearly understood and clearly justified by rebellious and sinful people... which means all of us.

The bottom line is that homosexuality is considered an abomination in the Christian faith. It's not up for debate because that is precisely what God calls it.

So you have a choice, agree with God or rebel against God... it requires an absolute decision. You have only one of two choices to make. There is nothing morally relevant. You either believe the Bible as the unadulterated word of God or you don't. Either way is ok with me because I didn't create mankind or the rules... God, however did. It's totally your call.

But please don't confuse loving your neighbor as the hateful, right wing, bible clinging woman writing the letter was clearly doing, as somehow trampling on free speech.

You see, as a Christian, preventing people from being exposed to behavior that is considered an abomination by God is not a mean spirited or narrow minded act. Coversely it is a selfless act of humility and submission to love others so much that you will risk being ridiculed and maligned like in this blog, simply because you want to prevent people from making mistakes that God warns us against. That is loving your neighbor and the Bible clearly states that it is impossible to authentically love God if you do not love your neighbor.

Non-Christians that have chosen by their daily actions to reject God are always "dumbing down" the Gospel in order to dilute the message into something more palatable to their "tastes." Nothing in life could be more reckless or dangerous for eternity. But, it does make for convenient argument.

So when well meaning librarians compose well wordsmithed blogs aimed at defending gay marriage in the guise of benign literary inspired social justice, please forgive my Bible thumping arrogance or sarcastic wit if I don't buy it for a minute.

The only way to truly and quickly spot a counterfeit is when you study the true original.

Blessings and Grace to you all.

jmp4z7 said...

This has been said but great letter! You are very good at writing to someone that you disagree with, respectfully. We need more letters and more conversations like this and maybe everyone can get along afterall!

Myownigloo said...

Librarians have always been among my favorite people. You haven't changed that with this thoughtful and well-written letter. (And incidentally, I just thrill at someone who can use the expression "by the bye" in correct context.)

Michael Hart said...

@fashionpop, the fact that you falsely believe there is one "Christian faith" is a perfect counterargument to your belief of one "Absolute Truth". There are many different Christian denominations precisely because they all have different interpretations of the word of God.

And that's OK. Most Christians accepted long ago that you can't interpret every passage in the Bible literally - or perhaps that some passages made more sense at the time they were written, but are no longer relevant (cf Leviticus).

The word of God is complex, and that's OK.

The sooner you move on from the assumption that there's only one absolute interpretation of the Bible, the sooner you can begin loving your fellow neighbours.

Chad said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough research into this matter. The one thing I find sad though is that, due in a large part to people like this library patron, America is now a much more censored place than England. It seems that England has moved forward and achieved what we aspired to, while we've moved backward and become the very restricted society that our founders sought to escape from.

KiiA said...

I found my way here through a link on Neil Gaiman's LJ blog. I found the overall discussion fascinating, although there were a number of comments that really disturbed me. Nevertheless, thank you for sharing. I am passing this link along to many of my friends.

Shade said...

very well-thought-out response. I enjoyed reading it.
After working in libraries in small towns for several years, it definitely speaks to some of the things I've seen taken off the shelves....

Quasar said...

*standing ovation* God, I wish I could write as well as you.

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, my moral views are obviously going to be in conflict with with such a book being abvailable in a library that my tax dollars are paying for...much less with it having been written at all.

But as I stop to think about this issue - a book with homosexual content written for kids available at a library - I have to wonder what the main point is. Is it a moral issue? Partly. But I think it's much more that of fairness. Now, I do NOT want material available that SUPPORTS something that I feel is just plain wrong (regardless if I have reasons to prove it's wrong or not) available in a library that I'm helping to support. But then, what are the other tax payers doing who also support the library that makes available books that support my faith in Christianity? Particularly when those fellow tax payers are against Christianity and anything similar?

The library is not trying to make a moral statement by supplying such a book to kids. Could it potentially do harm? Perhaps. And I'm weary of that, just like the father who wrote to the librarian. But rather, the library is making available something that is hopefully helping someone to understand a very tricky issue. Now don't get me wrong, how such information is present is a big deal. If a book was written about another hot topic and that topic was present as "okay" when it is clearly NOT okay, then yes, that wouldn't be good...all opinions to the contrary wouldn't hold any water.

But with homosexuality, the issue is already a difficult one that, no matter how you argue it, people will always have some disagreement. Helping a child to understand homosexuality will never be an easy thing. But if that is the sole intent for the book, then I'd be willing to allow it...with reservation.

I am a blogger, myself, and one of the things I focus on a lot is presenting info to help people - both Christians and non-Christians - to understand the truth about God and Jesus and the whole deal of Christianity. And sometimes, that info requires me to have knowledge about other religions as well, in order to present a fair and accute report. Sometimes, the best way to go about that is to go to a library that has books which whole-heartedly SUPPORT that faith which I am writing about but do not at all agree with.

I don't like it, per se, but i am grateful that libraries do exist, and given the nature of the world we live, where I can freely open a book that supports information that I'm clearly in disagreement with, so that I may better understand the things I write about.

Kudoes to the librarian for being unbiased. And may God bless him for his wisdom.

Drinne said...

Hello Sir,

I found you by way of Neil Gaiman's blog. I would like to thank you personally for helping me deal with some of the increasing fear and anger I have had with the individuals who would respond to the exchange of ideas with snark, or willful misinformation.

I am religious (the wrong religion apparently) and people like Loufranklin and annamouth generally create a fight or flight response in me. Because I am pretty sure that they don't just want to ban THINGS that disagree with them, my experiences have taught me that they would also like to ban PEOPLE who disagree with them.

The only truly American value that matters is that here we are free to believe what we believe without interference from the state as long as it does not impact the public sphere. We are also free to remove ourselves from the public sphere as long as it does not detract from the common good.

The only way we can truly be free is to allow those we disagree with to be free as well. I had been losing my way on how to respond using method 2.

Thank you for giving me back some of that ability. It used to be my default.

I'm still afraid of people who will not admit they are wrong and seek to use the government to impose singular views rather than enable multiple views, but I will have a more reasoned response, since I see it is still possible.

Or I will just quote Monty Python - "Stop Oppressing Me!! Did you see that!! He's Oppressing Me!!!

One or the other . . . .

I did link to you in my blog - I'm not sure of the etiquette but I thought you should know.

Book Bag said...

Thanks for sharing this. This is a great example of how we need to be defending our selection of materials.

Jon Maloney said...

Excellent letter! It's rare to see such a thoughtful response to a complaint. You were reasonable and diplomatic, while remaining firm in your convictions and true to the policies of the library. Achieving that level of tact is difficult. I especially like the following passages.

"Freedom of speech ­ the right to talk, write, publish, discuss ­ was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution ­ and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified."

"Your seven year old told you, “Boys are not supposed to marry.” In other words, you have taught her your values, and those values have taken hold. That's what parents are supposed to do, and clearly, exposure to this book, or several, doesn't just overthrow that parental influence."

"Ultimately, such labels make up a governmental determination of the moral value of the story. It seems to me ­ as a father who has done a lot of reading to his kids over the years ­ that that kind of decision is up to the parents, not the library. Because here's the truth of the matter: not every parent has the same value system."

Thanks for publishing this post.


(I found this blog entry via a link in the BookMooch forum.)

Aidan said...

This is a great letter. I appreciate your acceptance and embrace of this woman's right to teach her children the values she wishes. I support gay marriage but also support the idea that parents can teach their children whatever they wish.

"In short, most of the books we have are designed not to interfere with parents' notions of how to raise their children, but to support them. But not every parent is looking for the same thing." This is brilliant and insightful.

Laura said...

What a thoughtful presentation of ideas, reasoning, and purpose. Whether or not I support the theme or concepts contained, there is no question that you provided reasonable and balanced feedback. As a life-long reader who has passed this love on to her children, I applaud you. Defending access is so critical, and our libraries are a valued and vital part of our society. Hear hear!

Edward said...

Great letter! I like how you wrote it without swearing at the person, or even sounding mad. My version of the letter would have begun with, "please come over to my house you retarded hate monger and I will prove my moral superiority to you by punching you in your bigoted homophobic nose."

Well the first draft would have read like that.

I never could have gotten so calm sounding.

Angela said...

Lou franklin,

You said "Medical Marijuana is legal in parts of the country. Should Judy Blume write a children's book called Leroy smokes a fatty?"

Should we lie to our children about the history & science of the cannabis plant & it's relationship with humanity, possibly our own friends & family? Should we limit their understanding of medicine to only modern understandings of disease & treatment? Should we not tell them that aspirin can kill them?

I advise you to check out the book "It's Just a Plant" written & illustrated by Ricardo Cort├ęs.

As someone who grew up with a family friend with MS that is able to function without debilitating side effects through the use of medical marijuana, a book such as "It's Just a Plant" would have been very useful for my parents, or any others who wish to impart knowledge and understanding onto their children more than they wish to handicap their interaction with reality.

Gay marriage is happening right now. The sun also rises in the east & sets in the west.

You can tell your child that gay marriage is evil & horrible sin, that the sun revolves around the earth... but it's not up to the library to remove all contradictory viewpoints about marriage or astronomy for you to parent your child.

E. Peevie said...

Damn, I'm jealous! Here I am, a lowly blogger like you once were, leaving the 377th comment on your fabulous letter.

I appreciate so much the civility and respect in your letter, and in your subsequent replies to blog comments, that I have developed a little crush on you.

gapyeargirl123 said...

I came here via Neil Gaiman's blog, and I'm so glad I clicked on the link.

Thank you very much for posting this. It is wonderful to read.
I don't really have anything interesting to add, but this is why I like libraries. It gives people the choice. I think the freedom for personal choice is such an important thing.
Thank you very much.

dasht said...

I wept a little. That is a very fine letter.


Jessica said...

I know that it has been said quite a bit, but I just have to say it again. What a fantastic letter! Well thought out, articulate and you answered, from what I can tell, all of her concerns appropriately. Excellent job!

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this beautifully written letter.
I work in a library, and I have also been passionate about challenged and banned books for a long time. I think it's so important to fight against censorship.
That being said, I appreciate the respect that you gave to this patron. Since I grew up in a more conservative household, I understand the concern of patrons who worry that some material won't be appropriate for their children. Parents do have the right to tell their children what they can and cannot read. However, no one has the right to tell other people what to read.
You handled this situation amazingly well, and I applaud you.
Thank you again for posting this. Reading it meant a lot to me.

seankreynolds said...

I was pointed here by a Facebook friend--just wanted to say that is an EXCELLENT letter and I wish there were more people like you in the world. I'm going to mention this in my blog and on Facebook.

Brendan said...

Nicely done.

Cliff Cluniak said...

I am dazzled by your eloquence on this topic, and will be sharing it widely. I pretty close to never do that. This is what I wrote to a friend of mine about it.

"I don't think anything about this topic is even remotely controversial as between you and me (if it is, we'll probably be fighting come Monday).

And consensus is pretty dull, let's face it.

But I found this to be one of the most intelligent and thoughtful things I've read in a long, long time, and actually contains some ideas I don't think I've heard before, which I don't think has happened in years. (Maybe I should get out more.)

It is of value both for its specific subject matter and for its wider application which is ... what? General reasonableness and tolerance, I suppose.

Anyway, if you agree with me, send this link to everyone you would normally send your "interesting links" to.

If you don't agree with me, do it anyway."

Rosie Posie said...

Many have said so, but I want to echo their appreciation for posting your thoughtful letter for others to read. Thanks also for putting so much rational thought into something that often is a source of knee-jerk reactions.

Brett said...

My God, man - you forced this poor woman to have a conversation with her child! What kind of monster are you?

BrooklynKnight said...

Keep up the good work Jamie.

Mike Selinker said...

That's a heroic letter. Thanks for sharing it.

Snowlynx said...

I was brought here via a link from FaceBook.

As a former public library clerk who made it my mission every year to agitate for and organize a "Banned Books" display, I thank you. It may be arrogant of me to do so, but I consider you a comrade-in-arms. Thank you for making your views and defenses thereof clear, in a calm, civil, rational, and accessible way that respects those who agree and disagree. Thank you for proceeding from the assumption, as you appear to do, that those who disagree with you may in fact have a valid point of view that can be backed by reasonably good evidence, and refuting based on that. You are a credit to thinking persons everywhere.

I would like to link your blog, if I may, and I also intend to link this to my facebook.

Again, thank you, thank you, one thousand times, thank you.

Tracy said...

That is a very thoughful letter and represents the graciousness that all librarians should posess when dealing with such sensitive issues.

As a novice librarian I can only hope I can represent the profression in such a kind and just way.

Robert Andrade said...

I truly appreciate your thoughtful response to this woman and her concerns. I wish most responses to this kind of concern were addressed with the same level of thoughtfulness and appreciation.

kiirstin said...

I got here from Neil Gaiman's blog too, given that everything librarian is sparkly shiny to me. I've just spent an hour and a bit alternating between watching a hockey game and reading comments.

As a librarian working in a very conservative community (where I don't share a lot of our patrons' views) I've been waiting rather nervously for the first major challenge to come along. But your response clarifies for me exactly how I feel about these things; I'm Canadian, so I can't use your exact argument, but pieces of it will likely find their way into my anti-censorship vocabulary.

The interesting thing is, at nearly a year into this job with some books I would certainly consider controversial in our children's collection, I have yet to receive a complaint. I think the librarians at the library I work at have managed to ingrain, over the years, the idea of personal (and parental) responsibility when it comes to library materials.

Finally: "Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life." is possibly one of the most elegant expressions regarding collections I have ever seen.

Thank you!

D 'n' D 'n' M said...

I just want to say that this fine letter brightened my day and gave me hope. Brilliant. And when my 7 month old boy is a little older, I will be sure to read the book with him to reinforce that there are many kinds of family in this world and they all deserve respect.

Frau Mahlzahn said...

This is such a great response! Good job, I wish you were our librarian!

So long,

Rhonda said...


I am a new student in pursuit of my masters to become a school librarian.

This post literally gave me chills. Your response could not have been any better!

I only hope that I will be able to find such words in my future to topics such as this. Wonderful job!

Jamie said...

Thanks to Neil Gaiman's tweet, I've had quite a number of new comments. I do read them, and find them interesting, gratifying, or thought-provoking. Many thanks to you all for taking the time to be part of this larger conversation in our society.

Isaac said...

I'd just like to say that the civility of this discussion is astonishing, and kudos all round for people who have resisted trolling.

Lisa Yak said...

Fantastic response! I've shared the link to this post far and wide because it bears repeating. Well done.

Jamie said...

Because I just contracted H1N1 flu from my high school age son, I've been in bed for the past couple of days. (And recovering quite nicely, thank you.) I reread all the comments, and find that I'd like to address three of them I hadn't responded to, but have been thinking about.

One was the case of the 5 year old boy (who knew he liked other boys) looking through each of the 300 books in his school library to find one about him. And couldn't. The second was the Swedish woman who heard the little girl say she read about abused children because it was her story. And finally, one of the commenters asked if it is possible that there are some books which really are challenging enough that they should be placed in special sections where children will have a more difficult time finding them.

My view on the third point is contained in the previous two examples: books help children to make sense of the world, and often the need is acute. The issue of treatment matters; not all books are children's books. And even then, not all of them are well done. But by making it harder for children to find books written for them on topics that often do affect them, often deeply, we do nothing to make the world safer for them. We make it, in fact, even more difficult.

Thea said...

What a terrific letter! Thank you for so eloquently defending the dissemination of information.

I also love that it was posted the day that my wife and I were legally married in California, which was also the sixth anniversary of our original commitment ceremony. I know that back then some of our friends' grade-school-aged kids wound up having a spirited argument with their fellow students about whether "a girl could marry another girl"; this book might have been been a good reference had it had been carried at the local library!

coffeebucks said...

Your letter is truly excellent; thank you very much for writing it.

JCW said...

Wow. One of the best written pieces I've ever seen (and I count as an avid reader). I'd like to pass that on to my daughters' school libraries for their librarians to read as well - and anyone else I can think of. Exactly my view, that everyone is different and should be allowed to be, provided no one is being hurt.

Thank you.

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In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...