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Letter: What doesn't offend somebody?

Letter: What doesn't offend somebody?

  • 15

What doesn’t

offend somebody?

As a retired librarian with almost 50 years of service in libraries both in Fredericksburg and in Illinois cities, I was interested to read that members of the Spotsylvania School Board voted 6–0 to remove books from the county’s libraries that they deemed offensive. I would think that virtually all libraries have collection development policies that guide the librarians’ book selections. Did the school board members read any of these policies? Did they read reviews of any of the books?

The American Library Association’s magazine Booklist contends that the works of Adam Rapp, author of “33 Snowfish,” are “thematically powerful.” In a cover story on “edgy novels for older teens” in Library Media Connection, the author, a professor of library science, admits that Rapp’s book has “intense language” and contains “horrific events,” but she also asserts that “not every book needs to have broad appeal. Some books have a limited audience but should still be in your collection.”

Yes, Rapp’s book will surely outrage some readers. But as talk show host Dick Cavett pointed out in his marvelous 2011 New York Times essay, “In Defense of Offense”: “I’ve never quite understood why this word—‘offended’—is so horrifying. What doesn’t offend somebody? And who wants to see, read or write anything that is simon-pure in its inability to offend those dreaded ‘someones’?”

In other words, show me a library whose books do not disturb, antagonize and provoke just about everybody at some time or another, and I’ll show you a mediocre library.

Jack Bales

Reference & Humanities Librarian Emeritus University of Mary Washington


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