Update: "America" (The Book) Back on MS Library Shelves

PASCAGOULA -- A south Mississippi library has reversed its decision and returned a controversial book to its shelves.

After Robert Willits, director of the Jackson-George Regional Library System, banned Jon Stewart's best selling "America (The Book)" last month, public sentiment caused the library's board of directors to change its mind. Board Chairman Ables said the library has received "a lot of calls and e-mails" on the subject and the majority were opposed to the library's decision to ban the book.

Mississippi Press story .

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oh well

So much for that integrity award.

Re:oh well

Perhaps they can get some sort of award for waffling. Or has that been awarded already? :)

Re:oh well

Its wide open for 2005, We'll have to consider this guy the first contender.

banned for...substance or style?

Texas librarians offer their comments here .

Stewart's response to being banned in Mississippi

The Daily Show take last night (besides a cheap throwaway joke -- which Stewart acknowledged as such -- about feigning surprise that there *are* libraries in Mississippi) was that the Supreme Court picture is actually the least objectionable thing in the book.

John Grisham was the interview guest, and he congratulated Stewart on being banned. Grisham did a pretty funny interview.

Re:banned for...substance or style?

From that KTRE-TV Texas librarians article:


"Having every book that's published available for checkout sounds good but for some libraries it's just not possible."


Is anyone here working at one of those libraries for which it IS possible?

Re:oh well

What kind of integrity are we talking about? Maybe moral integrity based on religious beliefs or sticking to his decision?

I don't see much professional integrity in a library director removing a book from a public library because of his personal opinions. Maybe I'm the clueless one, but I thought that public libraries were for the public, and collections should be based on the community's wants and needs--not on what one guy would choose (or not choose) for his personal library. To me, this director displayed a distinct lack of professionalism and integrity in his original decision. But that's just me. :-)

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

I suppose it would depend on just how offensive but I have no doubt there are a lot things in the book offensive to various individuals and groups. However the fact you would have to sit and read the book to find them means that if you do come across them then you're mature enough to deal with them.

Re:oh well

He made a choice, as library director, to remove a book that he felt was not based on his community's wants or needs. That's his job.

If Stewart had placed the heads on a picture of the Brady Bunch no one would bat an eye. If he had placed it on a picture of 9 people in an orgy everyone would be angry. This falls somewhere in between. Some people aren't comfortable with it, some are. The only way you can question his professionalism is if you say that even a picture of an orgy wouldn't have bothered you. And chances are I'm going to say your lying.

Re:oh well

He made a choice, as library director, to remove a book that he felt was not based on his community's wants or needs. That's his job.

It's not his job. His job is to respond to community concerns through an established procedure of review.

Re:oh well

Well what do you think that "established procedure of review" is?

Re:oh well

My take on this aspect of professional ethics is the following: just because something bothers me personally doesn't mean it shouldn't be in the library. I may not like it and think it's completely offensive, but my personal feelings should not be the deciding factor. The library director stated the following, "I've been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I've objected to so strongly that I wouldn't allow it to circulate." Sounds like he personally objected to it more than he was looking out for the wants or needs of the community--as illustrated by the majority of callers and emailers wanting the book to circulate.

Peace out!

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

Okay, so going back to your original arguments...

He made a choice, as library director, to remove a book that he felt was not based on his community's wants or needs.

I think the article made it obvious that the library received a lot of e-mails and phone calls because that he did not remove the book because he felt it was not based on his community's want's or needs. Apparently the majority of the community wanted and/or needed the book in the library. So why didn't he know that? Sound like he never bothered to find out.

If Stewart had placed the heads on a picture of the Brady Bunch no one would bat an eye. If he had placed it on a picture of 9 people in an orgy everyone would be angry.

Wow. And you accused me of dealing in extremes.

Firstly, I don't think that "no one would bat an eye" if he superimposed the heads of the Justices. I think quite a number of folks would be upset because they'd think Stewart portrayed our Supreme Court as a bunch of childish goody-goodies who are out of touch with the reality around them.

Secondly, do we really believe that everyone would be angry if he'd done the same thing to an orgy? I wouldn't. I have friends who wouldn't. Heck, even my conservative parents wouldn't get angry over it. They'd simply see it as the joke it is. A joke in bad taste maybe, but a joke nevertheless.

So if Stewart just wrote a description of the Supreme Court Justices at an orgy, that'd not be as bad? And if he did, and someone had to read the book to find it, how does that make them more mature and capable of dealing with it? After all, there's plenty of people out there who read a book and then demand it be banned because they found it offensive. How mature is that?

The thing is, and I honestly believe this, that if a library caters only to what the community wants then the library and the community stagnates. Sure, a library in Town A where the majority of the people are conservative should serve that majority with conservative type tomes. But there's always going to be that minorty of liberal folks who are getting screwed on their reading because the library is catering only to the needs of the majority. The reverse would also be just as bad in Town B.

The point being, if you only carry books reflecting community desires and whims, they will have no opportunity to learn anything else. My community is almost 100% Christian, but we still have the Torah and the Quran and books on Paganism. Why? Because someone may want to learn something about other religions. My community is primarily conservative with a large population over the age of 60. Yet we still have liberal leaning books and books for children and young adults.

I think a library's job, among others, is to educate through open access to information. And that means all the information. Not just what the community agrees with.

Re:oh well

Not some guy in charge saying "this is offensive to me." When we have a challenge, 2-3 people are assigned to read it--a couple librarians and a manager. They also read reviews and take patron demand into consideration. Our director is a part of the process, but would never deem to decide himself, based on his personal objections.

Re:oh well

A Director can have a committee review something but its ultimately his decision (or the trustees depending on policy). Regardless, He's the figurehead, it all falls to him one way or the other. Also keep in mind this is based on a single picture, should it take a committee?

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

I think the article made it obvious that the library received a lot of e-mails and phone calls because that he did not remove the book because he felt it was not based on his community's want's or needs. Apparently the majority of the community wanted and/or needed the book in the library. So why didn't he know that? Sound like he never bothered to find out.

Jumping from a "a lot of emails and phone calls" to a "majority of the community" is a big jump.

Wow. And you accused me of dealing in extremes.

Is going from a picture of a group of naked people to a group of naked people having sex all that extreme? I don't know about you but when I'm standing in a group of naked people I'm checking out the girls not talking football with the guys.

Firstly, I don't think that "no one would bat an eye" if he superimposed the heads of the Justices. I think quite a number of folks would be upset because they'd think Stewart portrayed our Supreme Court as a bunch of childish goody-goodies who are out of touch with the reality around them.

True but I don't think they'd argue to pull the book from a public library.

Secondly, do we really believe that everyone would be angry if he'd done the same thing to an orgy? I wouldn't. I have friends who wouldn't. Heck, even my conservative parents wouldn't get angry over it. They'd simply see it as the joke it is. A joke in bad taste maybe, but a joke nevertheless.

But does it belong on a library shelf? That's the crux here. A public library is not your home. If a library represented everyone and had to stretch to the extreme allowances of everyone then only the most deviant members of society would be comfortable hanging out at the local library.

So if Stewart just wrote a description of the Supreme Court Justices at an orgy, that'd not be as bad? And if he did, and someone had to read the book to find it, how does that make them more mature and capable of dealing with it? After all, there's plenty of people out there who read a book and then demand it be banned because they found it offensive. How mature is that?
Its bad but its not as bad, no. The reason libraries have always been able to get away with having a large variety of materials in the library that would be considered offensive to a large variety of people is because that material was always in book form. You had to have the maturity to sit still long enough to get through the book and the intelligence (up to a point) to handle the content. That's not a catch-all. That doesn't solve all issues but it is the base line arguement for all controverisal books.

The thing is, and I honestly believe this, that if a library caters only to what the community wants then the library and the community stagnates. Sure, a library in Town A where the majority of the people are conservative should serve that majority with conservative type tomes. But there's always going to be that minorty of liberal folks who are getting screwed on their reading because the library is catering only to the needs of the majority. The reverse would also be just as bad in Town B.

The point being, if you only carry books reflecting community desires and whims, they will have no opportunity to learn anything else. My community is almost 100% Christian, but we still have the Torah and the Quran and books on Paganism. Why? Because someone may want to learn something about other religions. My community is primarily conservative with a large population over the age of 60. Yet we still have liberal leaning books and books for children and young adults.

Your jumping back into extremes again. To assume this book being pulled automatically means that all liberal or controversial books are pulled is flat out wrong. A collection should reflect its community and it should always partially stretch outside that community. But at some point someone looked at that picture and decided it was a step too far. That's a fair and legitimate arguement to make.

I think a library's job, among others, is to educate through open access to information. And that means all the information. Not just what the community agrees with.

It definitly does *not* mean "all".

Re:oh well

Director is there to back up the decisions of his well-trained staff, and if he's a control freak, sign off on every last one of their decisions.

Ah, hell...I'm making all this crap up. I'm just a Librarian I and basing my answers on common sense and standard professional practices. What do I know?

Justice is Blind & The Emperor's New Clothes

Who came up with this description of the quality of fairness? For all we know, Justice is Naked too. Certainly shouldn't be cloaked, though it frequently is.

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

I suppose it would depend on just how offensive but I have no doubt there are a lot things in the book offensive to various individuals and groups.

And let us not forget that "offensive" is a subjective determination, and as I have said a number of times on this board: There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere. Plus, the flip side to people finding something offensive is that others will not find it offensive. Banning a work because of a few people's hypersensitivies punishes those who are not offended by that work.

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

Well, the first page is full of obscenities, as I recall, all attributed to Thomas Jefferson. And the entire book is cynical about democracy. Canadians are portrayed as apologetic pansies, and the news media as ... well, we all know what Jon thinks of the news media. There's one photograph of a senator zombie brain eater (was it a senator? I can't recall) which is sicksicksick.


I love the book, but it's calculated to offend rather a lot of people, and I don't think literacy and access is any guarantee of adequate maturity to cope with a vacious parody of our democracy. Me, I think parody -- on any side of the political spectrum -- is a great way to explore extremes of brokenness, and it's a powerful book. Despite the naked justices, in a page that's one of the more juvenile he provides.

Seizing on the nudity as a reason to ban the book seems silly primarily because that's one of the few moments in the book that's not intellectually controversial or upsetting (in a funny way). It's just puerile.

Re:oh well

Occasionaly staff can be wrong, occasionally Directors have to step in and set things right.

Re:Stewart's response to being banned in Mississip

Yes Greg, there is a huge difference between seeing a picture of naked people and seeing pictures of people having sex (whether they are naked or not). However, that belief would certainly make understandable why John Ashcroft felt it was necessary to put draperies on certain statuary. Do you think people immediately start thinking about sex when they see Michaelangelo's David?

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