WA Secretary of State Blogs

Restricted Books

gunsmithI grew up in a library family and love freedom of information. At the end of September I will be sporting my “I Read Banned Books” button and giving out bookmarks of banned books. I speak fanatically about how wonderful it is that anyone can get information about anything if they have a library card. If I hear, “Should that be allowed in the Library?!?!?” I give a little lecture about how the only person who has a right to censor information is that person themselves, and when I see someone in the public library looking at pornography I chuckle and walk away.

That being said I understand that Prison is a different setting entirely and that if the Safety and Security of the Institution is compromised because of a book, how to make a bomb for example, that book should not be available. When I applied for the job I was worried that I would be banning books left and right, no sex, no violence, and no drugs!!! This is not the case. I was happy and surprised to see that the Institutional Library System works hard at deciding what is and isn’t allowed and does not restrict lightly. How to cross-stitch almost anything: Allowed. How to escape from prison: Not Allowed. Concrete Mama: Allowed. Hacking for dummies: Not Allowed. It’s hard to imagine a time when a book could be banned because of an amoral message or because animals were talking and wearing clothes. It is equally hard to justify checking out a book to a prisoner that advocates violence against a specific group of people. However, you should rest easy knowing that Danielle Steel and Jake Logan are on the shelves and ready for action.

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5 Responses to “Restricted Books”

  1. Great post, Anna. Welcome to the blog!

  2. I’m not sure I understand why books advocating violence against specific groups of people should be less accessible to prisoners than to the general population. I understand why practical information about how to build a bomb or escape from prison shouldn’t be available, but I don’t understand banning racist books. Of course it’s not desirable that prisoners or the general population should want to read such books, but could you explain why it’s not allowed in prisons? Is it because of racial/ethnic tensions within the population?

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  3. Jill Merritt Says:

    Maybe this will clarify it for you. The policy restricts “Materials which advocate that an ethnic, racial, gender, or religious group is inferior for any reason, makes such group the object of ridicule and scorn, and may reasonably be thought to precipitate a violent confrontation between the reader and members of the target group.”

  4. It’s very interesting screening the books and I am still getting a hang of what I need to be looking for and I do get a little upset when a book has to get pulled. There is currently an art book that us up for question because there are nude photos of the photographer as a boy. In the end the decision will be made by our supervisor but it is still our job to report questionable material.

  5. Melisa Gilbert Says:

    To me, making decisions about which books to restrict from inmates is one of the easiest tasks I complete each day.

    On the other hand, censorship is probably the hardest part.

    In my first year as a prison librarian, the decisions were more difficult, but the difficulty was in wondering how my decisions would be viewed by others. I learned how to turn off my emotions, read the policy, and look for quotations and page numbers in the book that clearly violate policy. If you can do that without letting your feelings intervene, it’s pretty easy to make a decision.

    I always follow policy because I value my job. But I totally disagree with the whole concept on a personal level.

    I maintain a personal view that books are not weapons. Things like knives, bombs, flames, certain substances, and even words & ideas (when voiced) have the potential to cause damage. But the only way I can see for a book to be a weapon is to hit someone over the head with it.