Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ooh, this makes me very, very angry.

It's this article that did it.

Where do you even start with something like this? For those of you who might not feel like reading the article, it's about a public library that canceled their entire summer reading program (for which, if it's anything like my library's, many people spent months of time preparing and organizing) because a church threatened to march in protest of some of the program's content. The library didn't want small children to be frightened of having to cross through a picket line to come into the library - which, after all, is supposed to be a warm, fuzzy, happy safe place.

The objectionable content included tarot cards and palmistry, which was evidently a minor part of the scheduled events of a program. The theme involved suspense and mystery, and was called "You Never Know It at Your Library." Other activities included urban legends, tie-dying t-shirts, yoga, zen gardens, ghost stories and scrapbooking. These were all things that the kids had been requesting, things they were interested in.

The summer reading program is voluntary. There is no one at the library insisting that children must attend everything or go home. Parents can decide which programs their children attend. They can oversee which program-related books children check out and take home. Why can't it be enough for families to make their own choices in these matters? If this were a library run by that Baptist church, then fine - but this is a public library program, a program for the entire community, which, last time I checked, can actually be composed of people with different beliefs.

Here's a quote from the minister: "We weren't against the reading program itself at all," Gallamore said. "We just take the stand that we don't live life by chance or by looking at the signs, but that our life is in God's hands and he is in charge of what takes place." He is entitled to take that stand, but one might think that taking that stand could actually involve allowing god to take charge of what takes place. And not bullying the library into cowtowing to one's personal beliefs, perhaps?

As a result of the criticism and threats, everything has been canceled except the end-of-program pizza party.

What a great metaphor for what happens when censorship is allowed to stand. When everything that could possibly be objectionable to everyone is removed, reducing things to the lowest common denominator, what remains? Nothing interesting or controversial, that's for sure. No sushi. No Thai food. Nothing spicy. Definitely no carpaccio. Here kids - have some pizza. Plain, of course.


  1. Ooh, that pisses me off too! I'll have to link to this in the next post that I do. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    I think that sounded like an incredibly cool program for kids! As you mentioned, this is a PUBLIC program and is VOLUNTARY. No one is being forced to do anything that they don't want to. And God forbid that children are actually exposed to a little bit of culture. I get so fired up about things like this. If anything, I think that we need more programs like this out there for our youth. In a world where all youth have is pizza and paris hilton, they could use some yoga, zen-gardens, and sushi, eh?

  2. Grrr. Makes me glad our culture is a whole lot more secular than yours!

  3. Chris - thanks for your comments. A little empathy always seems to make things like this more bearable!

    And rebekka - yes, I do envy you. And when I read your articles and comments about Australian politics - even though I agree that the things that annoy you are very annoying, indeed - I envy you those political problems! Living here in the States has not been much fun these past few years, sigh.

  4. I am so sad to hear the library acquiesed to this church. It is a public library, the church doesn't make its decisions...also if you don't like it, you're kids do not have to attend.

    What is wrong with people?! Instead of protesting this nonsense why are not these church people sitting in/making noise for the people of Darfur - people who are DYING every day! Urgh.

  5. I guess it's a lot more difficult to really help people than to create tempests in teacups that cause publicity, which in turn attracts a certain sort of people - and therefore donations - to that church.

    Or am I just way too cynical? Hmph. Still angry, anyway.

  6. And to think I was upset on MY blog! This is so ridiculous!! I would be up in arms if this happened here in Illinois. My kids look forward to the Summer Reading program every year.

    Censorship sucks! I could stay on my soap box for HOURS with this one!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. AnonymousJune 14, 2007

    These issues really irritate me, too, and being a public librarian myself, I get to hear about them all the time.

    Maybe it's because of my profession, but I tend to be less irritated at the church (that has a right to complain as much as it wants) and more angry with the library. Especially in this case, it sounds like they didn't put up much of a fight before submitting.

    Sometimes it's necessary to back down on something, especially these days when public funding is hard enough to come by. But librarians have a responsibility to promote education and the freedom to information even if it means stirring things up.

    Especially when it means stirring things up.

    P.S. I linked to you through Chris. Nice blog.

  8. Thanks, Scott - I agree with you, about the library submitting so quickly. It almost made me wonder if that was their strategy to get people angry with the church. Would they be that devious? Or maybe they really didn't want the children getting involved in some big ugly battle, I don't know. But you are right - they did cave quickly, didn't they?

    Seems like the ALA Code of Ethics went right out the window. Stirring things up IS imporant.

  9. AnonymousJune 15, 2007

    I do not have any religious objections to Tarot reading myself, but as a player of Tarot card games, I object to what appear to be one-sided presentations of Tarot cards only in terms of divination usage.

    Tarot cards according to playing card historians were not originally designed for fortune telling. They were created for playing a type of card game.

    I think that taxpayer funded institutions such as public libraries and public schools which are designed to educate the public should give equal time to the game playing aspects of Tarot. Teens should be aware that Tarot cards are not just used for the occult or divination. We should teach teenagers the rules for Tarot card games which are still played today in continental Europe. The young people might even enjoy playing card games more than practicing divination. We should educate young people about all aspects of culture including Tarot and not present one sided views of these matters. We are doing young people a disservice when we neglect to inform them that Tarot cards have a broader cultural signifigance than their uses in the occult.

    I do not wish for these Tarot presentations to be banned or cancelled but I do think they should be more balanced by including some information regarding Tarot's role in the history of card games.

  10. So, let me get this straight.

    The church stepped up and did what churches are supposed to do - protest something being taught to children that they see is against the values they feel should be taught.

    The library, because there was 'talk of' a protest dumped the entire program instead of trying to work with the church to reach a compromise.

    Yet, the church is guilty of cenorship? Churches are supposed to do exactly what this church did.

    It you ask me, it was the library that jumped the cenorship gun by canceling the entire program.

  11. Oudler - that is a good point. Tarot cards have a fascinating history, and a knee-jerk reaction against anything to do with them prevents people from learning interesting historical information. I love playing games with Italian playing cards, which very much resemble tarot cards (but without the major arcana).

    CJ - My problem is that this is a PUBLIC library, which is supposed to serve all the people in the community (many of whom have no issues with palmistry or astrology or whatever, and come from other religious or spiritual backgrounds, and whose tax dollars also support the library). If the church has a problem with that, then they should not attend the programs, or perhaps counsel members not to take their children to those programs. I don't believe they should protest in front of the library, with picket lines, doing things that are frightening and confusing to children. What is the point of that? As I mentioned before, the programs are voluntary, not something that the congregation of this church was being forced to attend. I think there are more productive ways to protest the contents of the summer reading program.

    I do agree that the library totally jumped the censorship gun here - they caved way too quickly and should have stood up for themselves. Maybe they felt that if they only changed the part of the program that particular church objected to, they'd be forced to change other parts that subsequent groups objected to. After all, there is always something that is offensive to someone. Except, apparently, pizza.

  12. first off: WOW - you've gotten more readers, lately. way to go!

    secondly: although i am heartbroken that the library closed its summer youth program, i am bitterly angry at this church. not because they were opposed to the program. (it's america. dissent all you want.) not because they felt compelled to have a voice in the community. but because their thinking was so reactionary and their target so beneficial to the community and to posterity.
    having lived on the upper east coast for 7 years now, i've learned that belief in God, and active participation in religion - particularly identifying yourself as a Christian - is something that a LOT of people politely purse their lips and clear their throats about. suddenly, you feel like people are trying not to patronize you, because patronization is clearly the only thing Christians understand. and if you're from a Southern state, game over. and why do they think you're a retard for worshipping in the footsteps of Jesus, or any other large tradition? because of bullshit like this! thanks South Carolina baptist church for adding fuel to the prejudice a lot folks have about Christians. thanks for continuing to make my genuine love for God in the example of Christ and my joy of worship look completely invalid amongst my peers.
    had this been a prissy parent or school board group, or even a local uptight group with religious underpinnings, i think i would have just been regular pissed. but because it's a church, i find it extraordinarily infuriating. stupid stuff like this is why few people take it seriously that someone can actually BE a Christian and find it fulfilling.
    ... also irritating: let's face it, the only truly offensive offered activity was scrapbooking that is of the devil. don't deny it.

  13. Darla -

    First, please understand that I'm basically playing devil's advocate here. Personally, it's up to each community to decide what goes on and my outrage or lack of it won't change what happens on the other side of the country.

    Second, the church is part of the public. It's role in society has always been to voice an opinion on things like this. Again, it's up to the community to accept/not accept what they're saying. A prime example is the extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church. They're the ones who go around protesting at the funerals of military people. Communities reacted by enacting laws banning demonstrations near cemetaries and the like. They didn't ban the group but found an effective way to protect those at the funerals.

    Second, from the article itself, there was 'talk of' protesting. It didn't sound to me like it was a done deal.

    It seems to me that in this country we've become too quick to cave in to people who threaten to do something in protest.

    I think that's my real problem with this. No one stands up for what they believe in anymore. Or, when they do, like the church, they're called extremists.

    I would've liked to see some discuss between the two groups. I would've liked to see the library listening to the church's side of things and then deciding whether or not to go ahead with the program as designed or make changes.

    It seems to me there were options besides just pulling the plug on everything but the pizza - which btw isn't all that good for the kiddies. (yes, I'm joking...)


  14. Molly - thanks for weighing in - I missed you. I laughed about the scrapbooking! Absolutely.

    CJ - I appreciate your playing devil's advocate - it makes for an interesting discussion. Your comments make me wonder how in depth that article actually is - how much discussion, if any, there was, what "talk" of protesting actually entailed.

    I agree with Molly's comment about the target seeming so misguided - the library does have such benefits to the community, and the whole thing seems silly and pointless to me. I think churches should focus their efforts on more crucial matters - don't they have bigger fish to fry? Aren't there kids out there who are at much more serious risk than the perils of palmistry, astrology, or (gasp) scrapbooking entail?


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