Interview of Ken Miller, Librarian at Pack Memorial Library, March 1, 2018. Interviewed by Cara Forbes.
CF: So are you familiar with Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eye?
KM: I am. I have not read the book, but I am familiar with that title. We keep it in the collection. She is one of the most famous and decorated American authors and that’s one of her most popular titles so there is perpetual interest in it as well as interest in Song of Solomon and Beloved and a few of her other titles.
CF: Awesome. So one of the things that we’re looking into for this project is specifically the censorship of The Bluest Eye’s sexually explicit content, especially in high school settings. The case that were looking at was an Honor’s Junior level class where the book was challenged by a parent. So, one of the questions that we had on censorship was, do you think that there is a age group where it is appropriate to censor material, especially in the context of sexually explicit material?
KM: I guess I would have questions about what you mean by censorship. It depends on whether you mean preventing a teacher from teaching that book in class or restricting access to that book in the public library. Those are two different issues completely.
CF: In this case, the book is being restricted from being taught in a specific class but I would also be interested to hear your commentary from the public library domain as well.
KM: Sure, well, in the public library we hold the book in the collection, and books like that in the collection, and if it’s a book that was reviewed in a source, a professional source that we use regularly, and that source indicated that it was best suited for an adult readership, then we would put it in the adult collection, if that source said it is suitable for adult and young adult, we might put it in both collections. Our circulation policy is that if you own a Buncombe County library card that’s in your name, then you can check out from any of those collections. A twelve-year-old, for example, could walk in and check out The Bluest Eye and there’s no restriction on that whatsoever. Does that make sense?
CF: It does. That makes a lot of sense. So one of the arguments that we’ve been hearing is that there are other books that you could be reading to get the same message that aren’t as offensive. Do you think that there is a value to offending readers?
KM: I think the goal, at least in schools, should be educating readers. And I’m not an educator myself. So I don’t know that anyone’s goal explicitly is to offend. But sometimes when you broaden someone’s horizons, they’re upset about what they have learned about the world that they have not learned before. And some people consider that being offended – to learn that a certain offensive or derogatory term is applied to a certain race or people of a certain gender is upsetting to some people. Its part of historical context, in many cases, some people don’t want to be offended. But I am uncomfortable about the notion of withholding knowledge about history and the history of literature from people just so they aren’t offended. Did that make sense?
CF: That does. So do you have a censorship process?
KM: I wouldn’t call it a censorship process. The form is called the “Statement of Concern About Materials Form”. And I’m glad to give you one after we’re done if you want. So it allows a patron, which is what we call library users, to make a statement of concern about materials – like, for example, they might say, ‘I don’t think this book should be in the public library’ or they might say, ‘I don’t think this book should be in the children’s part of the public library’. Really, they can make any statement that they wish, like, ‘This film’s rating should be larger so people that go to check out the film will have an easier time of knowing what the rating is and what it’s for’. And then we respond to the patron. It doesn’t mean we always act in accordance with the patron’s wishes, but we address their concerns with a response.
CF: Well, unless you have any other comments that you feel compelled to share I think that wraps things up.
KM: We’re a public library and a taxpayer-funded institution and we’re considerably more open on the issue of censorship than school librarians who are there to serve a certain age group of person or college librarians who are there to support curriculum. We’re here to support everybody. And various viewpoints and perspectives are contained in the works on our shelves and that’s the hope and that’s what we hope it always will be.
CF: Thank you very much I appreciate it
KM: Sure, sure.