Do You Read Banned Books?

By Elisha Dorfsmith

When should controversial books be pulled off the public library shelves? Who should decide which books get pulled and which books stay? After all, our tax dollars help pay for public libraries and since people with all different viewpoints pay taxes, shouldn’t all different viewpoints be allowed and represented on the shelves?

I pose these questions hoping to spark some discussion and feedback.

I expect many of you to say the solution is simply to abolish public libraries and taxes. I ask the above questions under the assumption that shutting down public libraries is not likely to happen anytime soon.

So where does my sudden interest in library censorship come from?

This morning I stumbled across a post on the City of Flagstaff Facebook page asking for people to apply for the library board. One of the duties of the board is to advise on challenged books. I asked the person who runs the City Facebook page what that means and was told:

“Hi Elisha! These are books that someone asks to be taken off the shelves due to what they consider to be objectionable content. The Board reviews the request and makes a recommendation to the Library Director. The Director has the final say. I hope that helps.”

One has to wonder what exactly is objectionable content? The Anarchist Cookbook? A collection of photographs from David Hamilton? The Satanic Bible? The Christian Bible? Just about everything is objectionable to somebody. Groups and individuals with an agenda lobby and fight to shut down viewpoints and ideas they disagree with all the time.

If you use the public library, are you comfortable with a board and library director making final literature decisions for you and the rest of the public?

For further reading see:

Censorship Nannies Out In Force

Below is the job description for library board members.

“Looking to get more involved in the community? The Flagstaff City Council is looking to fill vacancies on the Flagstaff City/Coconino County Public Library Board. The board is made up of seven members that are responsible for reviewing and advising on challenged books and digital downloadable books, and they recently helped celebrate the Main Library building’s 25th Anniversary. If you are interested in applying for a Library Board member position, click the link below!”

I encourage my readers who are Flagstaff Residents to fill out an application for the library board so you can make your voice heard. If I was not already serving on a commission I would apply myself.


  1. Garrick
    February 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I agree, the library shouldn’t take the Playboy magazines off the shelf. Of course I only read them for the articles.

    I can’t wait till my children are old enough to read and check out books. The first one I want them to read is 50 Shades of Grey.

    Why stop at books and magazines? Why is there a filter on the public Internet. Shouldn’t any body of any age be able to view any material? Does the library board and director also decides what Internet sites are filtered?


    If you couldn’t tell, I was being sarcastic in the rant above. I agree that “most” information/books/magazines should be allowed, but shouldn’t the library be a rated “G” place? If not, books need to rated and their viewing/checkout restricted. We have ratings on movies, video games and TV shows. We don’t let anyone under 17 watch a rated “R” movie, I think we shouldn’t let anyone under 17 read/checkout a rated “R” book.

    I guess in summary, some “banning” is acceptable, but the “devil is in the details” of what is “banned”.


    • February 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” –Robert A. Heinlein

      The library should NOT be a “G” rated place.

      I have no problem with books being sorted/ loaned out in an age appropriate manner. But why punish 18+ just because a 5-year-old can’t handle pictures of the dead in a military history book or adult language in Vonnegut or Hemingway?

      • Garrick
        February 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm

        “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” –Robert A. Heinlein

        Would the opposite to the quote be acceptable, because a man can eat a steak, we should put one on the baby’s plate too?

        Why scare/punish a 5 year old because us adults want our pleasures?

        My point is simply, all the books in the library need to be rated “G” unless the library is willing to put restrictions in place to prevent viewing of age inappropriate material (would that cost more taxpayer money?).

        We expect age restrictions at our convention stores who cover the adult magazine covers and our movie theaters who restrict viewing rated “R” films, why can’t we expect the same from our tax funded library?


    • February 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      The vast majority of adult fiction would not be rated “G”. Ever read a military biography? Certainly not rated “G” because of the adult language. How about the Bible? Old Testament is certainly not rated “G”. If you expect the library to be “G” rated you’d be left with only cookbooks and kids books.

    • travisestes
      February 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      No Garrick, the library should not be rated “G”. The rating of movies is honestly a little silly and a horrible example to try to imitate IMHO. Why is an R Rating for a movie in which people are brutally tortured to death acceptable, but show a penis entering a vagina (something most of us see as often as we can, unlike torture, which very few are ever exposed to) and it’s now rated X. When you decide that things need censored, you open the door to people censoring things for the wrong reason. Honestly, the internet is open and free, and children know how to use it better than adults. You think they haven’t seen some shit? They’ve seen more than you could imagine and laugh at adults attempts to ‘protect them’ from bad images/stories.

      But that’s neither here nor there. We are talking about a library banning books. In line with my earlier point, you make the case that material with sexual elements is harmful to children. Where did this idea come from? You probably don’t have a problem with classics like Treasure Island, where pirates kill each other in bloody battles, or The Count of Monte Cristo, a story in which a third mate on a merchant vessel plots revenge for years for his false imprisonment and then initiates an elaborate plan of espionage and murder… Murder, violence = okay; titties, sex = worst thing ever.

      Please, spare me the drama. There is NEVER a valid reason to ban a book, EVER!!! You are, in fact, trying to push your personal views on what is acceptable reading/viewing material based on your inherited puritanical views that sex is bad. Why should you or anyone else decide when someone else’s child is ready for specific content. The library is a public place, which means it must house ALL the ideas, books and resources a free society demands/deserves.

  2. February 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    When I was in my teens, learning that a book was controversial made it a “must read” for me! Decades of reading “banned” books certainly enhanced my philosophical and intellectual growth. But there’s never a shortage of small minds. Each year some community tries to ban, censor or sanitize the content of Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the first truly great American novel.

  3. Lou
    February 12, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Hi Elisha:

    There will always be someone who will decide which books to pull off the library shelves. It also seems to me that even though we may disagree with which books are pulled off the shelves, most of us would agree some books should be pulled off the shelves.

    You are a parent, and while I know you adhere to libertarian beliefs, I think there are things you would restrict your child from doing. Going to public school is probably one of them. I would even venture to say that there are books you would not want your child to read at this point in his life. It’s the same way with most parents. There may be books you may not allow your child to read that other parents may and vice versa.

    Since the majority of people agree some books should not be made available to children someone has to decide which ones; therefore, a mechanism should be in place as to how to decide which books get pulled off the shelves. It seems the Flagstaff Library has such a mechanism. We are not all going to agree with the person/s making the decision, but that is life.

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:58 am

      Lou, we are talking about a public library. Not a school library specifically for kids. I’m arguing that adults should be able to check out any book they want.

  4. February 12, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Here’s an interesting list of banned books (although most of these were from school libraries, not public libraries). Includes many books on my “Everybody needs to read list.”

  5. February 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks to the Williams Tea Party for picking this story up and adding some of their own commentary:

  6. Slim
    February 13, 2013 at 4:27 am

    I would say that, since a public (ly funded) library is not definitive of who gets to read what, that their primary purpose is to merely to augment public access to media, that the individuals forced to pay for the services should be allowed, to some degree, to exercise their judgement over its content. This, of course, leads to a messy review process involving bureaucrats and demagogues. There is no purist solution, for the concept of publicly funded libraries is not pure.

    The closest purist solution might be a requirement that donated “unapproved” materials be given to a private NFP town–Along with the best review and appeals process possible.

    And…Who is brave enough to check out unapproved materials since OKC?

  7. March 1, 2013 at 6:33 am
  1. February 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

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