Wednesday, December 06, 2006

County Removes Graphic Novel With Hamster Sex From it's Shelves

First, Some Background

This is going to be hard to explain without naming names, but I'm going to try.

I live in [Blank] County, CA. It is one of the largest counties in the United States. A big bunch of that is desert, national forest, designated wilderness, etc. There are huge swathes of land - some of it with people living on it - that are not incorporated into any city. It is the county's job to provide to these areas the kind of services that cities provide. Thus, we have a countywide library system with branches anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour apart. Please understand, though, that [Blank] County also has a lot of people. Some branches are very tiny and serve small communities (like mine). Others are big and serve areas as heavily populated as any decent sized city.

[Blank] County, like a lot of local governments, has had some issues with corruption recently. That means they have an image problem at the moment. [Blank] County is also one of those reddish-purple spots on those voting maps that everyone likes to post. The reps we send to the state and national level tend to lean right, several of the homes near my branch up in the mountains are strictly vacation homes, and we have one of the largest Mormon populations outside of Utah. Needless to say, we also have a very diverse population, including a a very large working class and poor population and a significant number of Spanish speakers. [Blank] County is still very much California, but it's slightly poorer and much more conservative than most people imagine California to be.

I mention all this only because it turns out that there was a reason why Tokyopop was invited to speak at my library's countywide meeting for YA/Childrens' librarians.

[Blank] County Removes Graphic Novel With Hamster Sex From it's Shelves

Last spring, a kid from [Middle of Nowhere], CA, checked out Paul Gravett’s Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics from his local [Blank] County Library Branch. When he showed his parent the one page that showed Hamster Sex! (why? what self-respecting teen does that?), the parent brought this fact to the Library's attention.

The book ended up getting pulled completely from the shelves of every branch in the county that owned a copy, rather than simply moved to the appropriate location in each branch. Yes, someone had decided that since it was full of "cartoons" that it belonged in the Juvenile section. Publicly, the Library Director says that it was a joint decision with the County Board of Supervisors. The rumblings I heard today suggest that that the decision was made against the library's wishes. I don't know which story is correct.

I do know, however, that we can request this title from a nearby county through the same system that we use to request books from other branches in our own library. No, I do not mean interlibrary loan, I mean that all a patron has to do is walk in and ask us to request the book from the system and it will arrive a few days later, free of charge. This isn't something special for this book, it's just a deal we have. I thought I'd mention it because it highlights so well, IMHO, just how ridiculous this stuff can get to be.

But Shouldn't Children Be Saved From Graphic Hamster Sex?

I was in grade school when The Simpson's came out and were a Big Thing. Kids used to wear Bart Simpson T-shirts to school all the time. My parents never let my brother or I watch it.

I'm still not sure if this was a good decision or a bad one. The Simpson's is not a children's show and children really shouldn't be watching it. However, since it's not a show made for kids, I really don't think we would have liked it, and I wonder if not letting us do so simply made it forbidden fruit.

I'm not against directing children's media choices. I think that's our job as adults. But I also know that I read a lot of stuff as a kid that would have shocked my parents, and I really think I benefitted from it in the end (here is where I would link to my as yet to be written posts on scifi/fantasy and romance novels). Generally, I'm mostly for directing children's choices, and mostly against dictating children's choices. When it comes to stuff that isn't schoolwork or chores, I think it's better for kids if they have a certain amount of freedom. I also think weeding out the really bad stuff is easier if you keep the dictating to a minimum and stick to more creative ways of directing their choices. Even as a teenager, I knew that it would be easier to get my then preschool cousin away from Ren and Stimpy and Rocky and Bulllwinkle (neither of which seemed appropriate to me for a four-year old) if I said that it was time to play outside instead of making a big deal about either of the shows. I understand that sometimes you just need to say "no" in clear and plain language - I just don't see that the library had gotten to that point. I think people were mostly just freaked out by something odd and no one wanted to be seen as defending Hamster Sex! - for kids!

Most of all though, I'm really against other adults telling me what I can read. I happen to like a lot of stuff that I don't think kids should read and a lot of stuff their parents wouldn't read themselves. But my tax dollars go to pay for library books as well. It's one thing to argue that the money should go to pleasing an audience consisting of more people than just me, it's quite another to get rid of books already bought just because kids (possibly) shouldn't be reading it.

I'm also beyond fed up with the idea that if it's cartoons, it must be for kids. Thankfully, that's slowly changing - it just needs to change faster, then we won't have as many problems with stupid stuff like this.

After all, Laurell K. Hamilton's books and Gregory Maguire's Wicked include a lot of weird sex (the former probably more explicit than the Hamster Sex!) and they're still on our shelves.

No comments: