Why Have Controversial Material in Your Library

Karen McCandlish writes:
Why have controversial material in your library? I was just discussing this topic with a friend, and I came up with a few reasons why it might be good to have anti-gay or racist or other controversial material in a library. It certainly is a way of raising people\'s consciousness, and perhaps their consciences, as to what\'s really out there - the level of hate where these people are coming from.
Of course, if you are in a college situation and doing a paper on racism, some primary source material could be very beneficial. Instead of reading about what someone else said about the KKK, or about Jerry Falwell, for that matter, you can read what they say and do it in their very own words. World Church of the Creator even has their very own website, as does http://www.godhatesfags.com <\">http://www.godhatesfags.com> and the rebuttal site http://www.godlovesfags.com <\">http://www.godlovesfags.com>


There are many reasons for having controversial books in a library, and there might be more to it than you think. Hate Watch is a group on the net that documents hate sites. There are similar organizations such as Klan Watch that probably even subscribe to an organization\'s newletters, and read up on and keep informed of their events just so that they know what the group is up to (in that case the Klan).


I\'m sure that reading a group\'s propaganda is useful in studying racism, or homophobia, for example. The books I\'ve seen range from \"rude\" science to heavily scriptural material, autobiographies and such. You may not be a proponent of phreneology, but you may want to know what it is. Perhaps you have a great uncle who spoke about it once, or some guy at the bus stop, and you want to know what it is. Just because you read a book doesn\'t mean you have to agree with it. Why should you be denied that knowledge or have to justify why you want it, or for that matter, why should you be denied information about any other controversial topic for any reason, be it abortion, homosexuality or religion? Without all the information we can\'t reason things through and make good decisions.


As to why someone might want anti-gay books, perhaps you have a friend who is a part of the Exodus movement (a \"change yourself\" group) and you want to be able to understand them better. Most people who are debating a topic, writing a paper, or researching are encouraged to look at both sides of the issue. It strengthens one\'s argument if they understand what the opposing viewpoints are, and how to rebut them. It might help you understand a client, friend, coworker or relative better. You might not agree with them, but you might be able to understand a bit better where they are coming from.


It\'s the same with gay books. A person, even a librarian, may not agree that people should be gay, but perhaps they want to understand what it is like to be gay, or what gays experienced in the holocaust, etc. or what it\'s like to raise a gay child, or to be raised by a gay parent, and they can experience all that through a first hand account in an autobiography. It\'s fascinating.
I really think that books are great. Without ever knowing someone I can get to understand them, and find out what their life might be like, by reading a book they have written. There are even diaries of homeless people and of course there are books about and by criminals too and drug addicts, not really my fancy, but our criminal justice and human services departments find that quite helpful. There is also a book about a faithful committed monogamous Christian Republican housewife and a friend of Ronald Reagan, who contracted AIDS, and what it was like for her to feel shunned by her own. And about Ryan White, a little boy who got AIDS from a blood transfusion. Such books are necessary to break stereotypes about AIDS so that children like Ryan hopefully are not teased taunted and excluded out of prejudice and ignorance, for those who are open minded enough to read about or watch a video about him.


Misperceptions about AIDS continue to allow the disease to infect heterosexual women and men of all races because in their ignorance they fail to protect themselves. I wonder how many kids know that you can get AIDS from a tattoo or a piercing that is not done properly (with a clean needle), or how many mothers know that you can transmit AIDS through breast milk. Without materials on AIDS in a library you are putting people at risk in many ways.


In short, libraries are about education without judgement. While it is true that everyone\'s experience differs, and you can only truly know what a person believes and what they truly think unless you ask them, books can give a fair amount of insight into a group, religion, or person. It is true that not all information in print or on the internet is fact we should to provide as much information or as high quality as possible so that a person can make their own decisions. While we would hesitate to give or suggest information that is not factual, some areas are up for debate, such as religion and philosophy for example. Whereas science and technology books need to be updated so that accurate information is available, some materials may still be retained in a special archive for historic purposes.

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