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February 20, 2007

Scrotums and Hoo-Hahs

There is always debate in libraries regarding the role that the librarian plays in society. Is the librarian a filter between the information need of a patron and the collection: that is, does the librarian help narrow the scope and focus the search; is the librarian a tool or instrument to aid a patron in navigating the complexities of the library? After all, not everyone knows how to search a database or use an index or a catalog; the organization of information in libraries, which has been happening for thousands of years, is more complex than can be served by Google’s algorithms. What role does the librarian have? If a man comes to the reference desk asking for information about the value of his 1972 Pontiac, the librarian points the way and even shows the person how to find the information. But what if it’s a 15-year-old girl looking for information on abortion clinics? Or a man with a long beard looking for information on making a bomb? Or children reading a book that mentions the word “scrotum?”

My opinion on the matter has always been that of a passive tool. I will help the person find the information they desire. I will not judge the request nor will I interpret the information for them. I find it equally important in matters of collection development. Collection development is the process of selecting the material that will be included in a library collection. There are policies on this that state, usually, we will collect all books that meet this criteria: X Y Z. Policies are usually in place to ensure the orderly and unbiased purchasing of materials that represent a variety of viewpoints on a subject: after all, a library is purchasing material for more than one person: more than a hundred people; and in some cases, more than one thousand. So, who is to say what is right and wrong? My view on income taxes may be entirely different than yours. My view of alcohol consumption and smoking is likely different as well. No one person can posture his or her view as being the final view or the only view on a subject. This is why it is awful to see librarians willfully refusing to purchase a children’s book (a Newberry Award winner) because it mentions the word “scrotum.”

The euphemistic pattern in our country, especially with regard to bodily functions and bodily parts, is really quite comic and sad. Pathetic. Another recent example is the woman who complained of having to see the word “vagina” on the marquee of a theatre running the Vagina Monologues. Frankly, the fear of the body is the fear of the self and the denial of more than half of one’s existence. The people who fear the body will be greatly pleased in some distant future when the body is removed and our minds, brains, consciousnesses float around disembodied in some plastic manufactured container. Body experience will be relegated to the trash heap of history and will be re-phrased as inputs and outputs. The brain will live forever in Tupperware, but what will living be like? The fear of the body says as much about the person, who longs for a plastic body: hairless, odorless, neutered, removed of all reality, meaning, and vitality. These people feel the same about their children and their children’s minds: plastic, neutered, inoffensive. They are the same people who promote fairy tales stripped of the lightning flashes of mythic meaning; the unconscious depravity that makes life potent and worthwhile. The sisters of Cinderella don’t cut off their toes to fit the shoe; instead they struggle make it fit, or worse, just give over to apathy and don’t really care at all.

The librarians who refuse to purchase this book and place themselves in the Godly position of doing what the parents should do: decide what their own children will see, read, and know, are violating one of the most sanctified ideals of the library profession. They are accountants who embezzle. They are judges who take bribes. They are priests who molest. They are guilty of a great betrayal and are sad, sad representatives of their profession.

Each human should have the right to select the forms of human expression to which he or she will subscribe. For children, this is the role of the parent. If a parent doesn’t want his or her child exposed the word “scrotum,” that is their right. But parents all too often revoke this right, expecting society to do what they should in fact be doing: and then become outraged when it isn’t done to their taste: parents who use libraries as daycare centers; require televisions with vchips rather than actively engaging their children and paying attention to what they do and what they are exposed to; require schools to teach their children about sex, provide showers, feed them, baby-sit them: but not discipline them…in short, parents who dispose of their responsibilities.

Secret parts was the word in Medieval times. Unmentionables. Bathroom. Restroom. Behind. Hoo Hah. Peepee. Tinkle. It’s all enough to make one want to throw-up.

Posted by twh7 at February 20, 2007 12:31 PM



Where do you draw the line between the curatorial function and the information-access function? One can't collect everything. The question with books filled with gratuitous grossness is: are there positive values that make up for it (as in this case)? Would one buy a children's book that was ONLY gratuitous grossness, when one could buy a book that had something going for it?

Sometimes there are issues of function involved. I recently did a major opera DVD buy for Kulas, and one of the criteria that I went to great lengths to research and fulfill was avoidance of productions whose staging had nothing to do with the plotline of the opera, and avoidance of gratuitous nudity. Now, I have nothing against nudity, and while Eurotrash productions aren't my thing, that's not why we made that decision. Rather, we got feedback from faculty that gratuitous boobie-flashing was corrosive of classroom discipline...and it has nothing to do with the opera as an artwork in context. This is a performance-practice-oriented department...and excess skin is not part of the performance practice of Mozart's or Verdi's time.

Likewise, there was a big discussion on the MLA-list about whether noting parental advisory stickers in bib records was a violation of the ALA professional ethics code. My POV was that, since many rap records also exist in broadcast-ready versions, that it was an edition statement, and that there is really no such thing as giving a patron too much information about a CD they're going to listen to, so that they can decide; it's not my job to decide that their wish to avoid smut is not important. Not that we've faced that problem here...does that make us censorious, or does it mean that we haven't had an academic demand to collect rap?

All that being said, Scrotum Lady (she'd prefer "nutsack", maybe?) should Get A Life.

Posted by: Jeffrey Quick at February 20, 2007 02:20 PM

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