Month: February 2019

We Took a Vacation

Since Genevieve and I were in Albuquerque almost all of last week, I can’t say that we did a lot of research. However, this might be a good opportunity to catch up on somethings I did not blog about.

Emailing Karin Perry

A couple weeks ago, I reached out to Karin Perry, the previous librarian of Whittier in Norman. She replied very quickly, directing me to her blog of the events, including a timeline. She also corrected something that Ellen Hopkins likes to tell people about the case: Norman did not take her books out of the library. During Censorship disputes, they always keeps the book(s) available until after the decision is made. Karin seemed willing to answer any further questions we had, but I thought that was a really interesting piece of information.

Receiving Information from the School

In that same week, we set up a phone interview with Kathryn Lewis, the Director of Media Services and Instructional Technology of Norman Public Schools. She read us the protocol for challenging and removing a book, and also sent us the parent complaint and the board meeting results. She also happens to know my sister, and they talked about our phone call. Kathryn mentioned that she actually went and listened to Ellen Hopkins talk a few years after the case, where she reported the same false information that Karin Perry corrected me on. I got the information from Ellen Hopkins blog post.

I think this could be a really interesting avenue to explore for our website. The reality of censorship vs. the rhetoric that is propagated from it. Hopefully, we can find more interesting tidbits like that as we continue working.

Women and Censorship

Response to “Gilded-Age Consensus, Repressive Campaigns, and Gradual Liberalization:The Shifting Rhythms of Book Censorship”

In this chapter by Boyer, he is discussing the sort of cultural censorship that occurs without the need for laws. The morals and beliefs of the people often affects the literature we get more than people think about. What really stood out to me, is when discussing the changes that happened in the 1870’s and 80’s, a lot of the censorship was a result of women becoming increasingly literate. This had a significant affect on what was published:

“Racy books and bawdy tales once savored by gentlemen in their libraries were now deemed inappropriate for pious middle-class men and women, not to mention their children.”

pg. 277

Obscenity and Why it Mattered

The legal definition of obscenity was determined in the 1868 case of Queen v. Hicklen, and is as follows:

“The test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

pg. 282

This covered a wide variety of topics, such as crime and sexual content. In 1885, Massachusetts made it illegal to sell any obscene literature to minors. Many news stands in the area were prosecuted. It is interesting that this issues comes back to parents (mostly mothers) wanting to censor their children. The culture of feminine values at the time really pressured women to put virtue and protecting their children above anything else. Hence why their interest into the world of literature sparked such a significant change. The genteel code was in place for fifty plus years, quietly controlling the type of print mostly minors had access to.

Women since then have constantly tried to break this stereotype, but it often times still exists. This type of female fragility that suggests we are too pure, and must be protected from obscene literature like children is something feminist activists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman fought against at the time and now.

How This Applies to Our Research

While we do not know that name of the complainant in our censorship case against Ellen Hopkins, we do know that she was the mother of a student. This happened in 2009, not the 1800’s, so it is interesting how the role of mothers has not changed in that regard.

In her Request for Reconsideration, the complainant includes three and a half pages of quotes she deems inappropriate (which relates to obscenity) and ends her list by saying “This is not a complete list of age inappropriate content in this book. . . just a small portion.” The type of time and energy it takes to research this material, shows an intense amount of care into the type of content her child is consuming. She did not only want her child not to read the books, she wanted to restrict access from all kids at the school.

Overall, I think the things discussed in this chapter are just an interesting parallel to the possible motives the mother in our case might have had.

Meeting With Our Research Librarian

Genevieve and I set up a meeting with our research librarian, Nicole McMonagle, last week. We were able to sit down with her and discuss our case on Thursday. She was really helpful in explaining the online sources available to us.

Available Resources

Nicole explained to us the current state of the archives at USAO, which was not favorable. Not only are they still attempting to organize the collection, but all of the information is directly related to USAO or Oklahoma College for Women, as it was formerly named. She didn’t seem confident that anything in our library’s collection would be of use, but she did direct us to helpful links on the school website.

USAO has subscriptions available to students she showed us. We have access to the entire Daily Oklahoman online, and all of the digital archives from the University of Oklahoma. The school also recently acquired access to a database called HeinOnline. It allows us to view government or historical documents, which could be really helpful to our case. She seemed really hopeful about the new opportunity. She showed us how to access everything, and encouraged us to reach out to her if we hit any road blocks in our research.

Sources Outside USAO

She also talked to us about other options for further research, since our collection is limited. Our library has an inter-library loan system, which we already used to order a book. We might be able to gain access to relevant articles through it. She also encouraged us to go to other libraries who might have archives. The public library in Norman (the town of our case) has archives of The Norman Transcript, which we plan on looking through. She encouraged us to up to OU if we think we might find anything helpful there. We are lucky that there are so many resources available to us there, and plan on exploring the subject more in the weeks to come.

Progress Update: Actual Progress Gets Made

At the beginning of our project, my partner and I were having trouble finding a case to research. We only found one case, in which Brave New World was challenged in Yukon in 1988. For a while our research was stunted. We discovered an article about the school board meeting, where the angry parent started yelling after they voted to keep the book in the curriculum. This seemed like it had potential to be interesting, but since it was so long ago, we wanted to keep our options open for another case.

Another Case Opportunity

I emailed two librarians I know who work in Norman Public Schools on Wednesday. I inquired if they had any knowledge of censorship disputes in their school system. Kelsey Barker, the librarian at Longfellow Middle School, responded with links to news coverage of a very interesting case. In 2009, at Whittier Middle School, the librarian won a charity auction for a visit from author Ellen Hopkins. She was scheduled to come talk to students during Banned Book Week, because her poem books are constantly challenged for their mature content. A parent challenged her book Glass at the same time. They took her books out of the library during the dispute and cancelled her visit.

The backlash from this was astounding. We found multiple newspaper articles, references to it being discussed on a local news station (although we have been unable to find a working clip), and a blog post by Ellen Hopkins. This blog post led us to uncover a poem she wrote about the event for Banned Book Week. She ended the blog post with the last stanza:

“Torch every book.
Burn every page.
Char every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.”

Ellen Hopkins, “Manifesto”

Research Begins

As a team we immediately got to work. I found the email address of the librarian who worked there at the time. Her name is Karin Perry and she now works in higher education at Sam Houston State University. Since that is five hours away from us, I plan on emailing her to see if she would be interested letting us conduct an interview via Skype. My older sister also used to work at the school, and told me she would contact a teacher connected to the case to ask if she could share her information with us for the project.

Genevieve emailed the current superintendent of Norman Public Schools, Dr. Nick Migliorino, requesting a release of the information involving the case. Alesha M. Leemaster, the director of communications and community relations, emailed us back the next day. She was, understandably curious about the nature of our project, which did not surprise us. She inquired as to the nature of the class, what we planned to do with our research and how it would be displayed. She seemed willing to work with us for the time being. We haven’t heard anything else from the office yet. Hopefully our research will keep progressing.

Works Cited: