Censorship and Self-Censorship

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This paper will go over the issues Public Libraries have with censorship and a few of its forms. So who is censoring materials? The American Library Association (ALA) has done a study on just who is initiating the majority of the challenges to materials. Not surprisingly patrons and parents are the top contributors the results are as follows: 42% library patrons; 32% parents; 14% Board or administration; 6% Librarians and teachers; 3% political and religious groups; 2% elected officials; 1% students. (ALA, 2018). The study goes on to say that 56% of these challenges took place in public libraries followed by 25% in school classrooms.


Laurie Halse Anderson once said Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. According to Merriam-Webster, censor is to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc. (Merriam-Webster, 2003). There are many definitions of censorship; The American Library Association defines censorship as a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes (Lili, pr. 5). Knox (2014) describes censorship as an amalgamation of practices, including the redaction of text in a document, cutting pages out of a book, or denying access to materials (p.741). The general sentiment behind most of these definitions is that something is withheld from access by another.


One of the types of censorship is self-censorship. Merriam-Webster defines self-censorship as the act or action of refraining from expressing something (such as a thought, point of view, or belief) that others could deem objectionable (Merriam-Webster, 2003). For this paper self-censorship will be from the perspective from within the public libraries. Many libraries, without even knowing it use a form of self-censoring when picking out books. In an article by Jamison, she notes how library keep this little secret under wraps. a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books”those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. (Jamison, 2018, par4) Another way libraries partake in self-censorship is in vendor or publisher bias. I have seen this a time or two, a patron askes the library to order a book they want to read, the book is pretty inexpensive but itr’s an independent publisher and so the library simply says they cant complete the order.


Challenging books and censoring material is most prevalent in young adult literature. This can be a problem for children who dont have the means to formulate diversified opinions. In fact, Hill (2017) pushes for libraries to have educational materials that cover topics that address diversity, inclusion and social justice available for young adults, this need is even more pressing since the last presidential election in 2016 (p. 337). The Public Library should put themselves in the line of fire by advocating the rights to Intellectual Freedom and knowledge of any subject and information. The ALA describes Intellectual Freedom as the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment. (Oltmann, 2017:410) This would mean that all individuals have the right to read or view any and all ideas and should not be governed by censoring or challenging material.

Some would say censorship is whatr’s best for the good of the community, by helping to prevent conflict and allowing everyone to have a good feeling. Censoring things that may offend or anger entire groups of people can be left out of the collection and rid the library of the burden of upset patrons. With the growth of easily digital accessible pornographic and violent material, children can fall victim to becoming desensitized or confused on what is acceptable or not and so censorship would be welcome in this instance. The Childrenr’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) tries to detour this issue; we will discuss CIPA later. Other advocacies in favor of censoring is what companies can advertise, we can stop them from making false extreme claims. Although these things sound like they are helping the community, ignorance to the problems (by censoring) is not the answer; education is!


Itr’s no secret library budgets are being cut due to lower property taxes and penal fines. These revenues make up a vast majority of the funds for public (nonprofit) libraries who collect millages. To keep internet costs down many libraries are taking advantage of E-rate, a type of federal fund that cuts the costs associated with internet access. With E-rate the facility is required to filter material and comply with Childrenr’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors) (FCC, 2011: par2).

The problem with these filters is the mass generalization and over blocking of content that are legitimate and full of useful information (Batch, 2015:61). An ALA study has found that 10 years later CIPA has indeed created two classes of students: a class with unfiltered internet access at home to explore ethical choices about online interactions and a class of disadvantaged students who only have access to filtered internet at school (Batch, 2015:64). Librarians are expected to help children and teens learn to use/find correct and scholarly resources for school papers or homework. With mass filtering some of these resources become unavailable. Filters often come pre-configured with many categories and types of content already blocked by default. Even with careful review by library staff, many of the staff members dont completely understand what needs to be filtered and what is overdone. The very thing filters that are designed to protect children and teens from in libraries, ends up potentially doing more harm than good when it comes to education and intellectual freedom.


Material selection can be thought of as a type of censorship. It is easy to fall into the trap of only buying materials that will not cause a rift in the community one way or the other. One way to prevent this from happening is to enforce a collection management policy. Suppression of one text does not qualify as censorship. Selection becomes censorship when suppression or inclusion of certain types of materials happen. McMenemy (2008) notes on the subject of material selection:

The selection of library materials is perhaps the most crucial aspect of the social contract between the librarian and the user. It is fundamental to our ethos and our status as a profession. In protecting and defending our role as selector of material, we need to take full responsibility for the collections we build. (p. 344)


As mentioned in the introduction to challenge library material is using a form of self-censorship. The ALA defines a challenge to material as an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on objections from a person or group. (ALA, 2018). This closly resembles the definition of censorship. It would go along with the thinking I am offended by this book, it is grotesque and therefore no child should ever read it! Gaffney (2014) explains that the reason so many young adult geared literature goes on the challenged or banned list is due to teenagers feeling raw emotions with issues such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, cutting, eating disorders and suicide (p. 732). These subjects still seem taboo for most adult patrons and parents who dont want their young adult getting ideas from these stories to confuse their moldable minds. In most cases when a teen book, item or material is being challenged it is because someone found the information upsetting and is trying to protect others from being upset by it (Knox, 2017:269). To further drive the notation that teens dont simply follow what their favorite characterr’s do, Kokesh (2015) interviewed a group of 15 to 18 year olds on the subject. During the interview the teens stated that if faced with similar issues that their favorite young adult characters faced they would use the lesson of what not to do, due to already reading that undesired scenario, to find a better solution (p. 154).


While most all librarians will tell you that they are opposed to censorship, many unconsciously partake to some form throughout their career. It is easy to allow a covert action, like not repairing that sex education book in the childrenr’s section just because you are tired of seeing it out on the window ledge showing all the boy parts and phone calls. Some of the hard struggles are the ones we as anti-censorship advocates have to make internally.


  1. ALA. (2018). Censorship by the numbers infographic text, American Library Association.
  2. Batch, K. R., Magi, T., & Luhtala, M. (2015). Filtering beyond CIPA: Consequences of and alternatives to over filtering in schools. Knowledge Quest, 44(1),60-66.
  3. Document ID: 2db7f402-0644-0de4-7dcd-af78838b2db4
  4. Censor. (2003). In Merriam-Websterr’s dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA
  5. Federal Communications Commission. (2011). Childrenr’s internet protection act (CIPA). Washington, DC. DIO: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/childrens-internet-protection-act
  6. Gaffney, L. M. (2014). No longer safe: West Bend, young adult literature, and conservative library activism. Library Trends 62(4), 730-739. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved October 07, 2018, from Project MUSE database.
  7. Hill, R. (2017). Yes, we (still) can: Promoting equity and inclusion in childrenr’s and young adult library services. The Library Quarterly, 87(4), 337-341
  8. Jamison, A. (2018). Librarians beware: self-censorship. Intellectual Freedom Blog. DOI: https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=13550
  9. Knox, E. (2017). Opposing censorship in difficult times. The Library Quarterly, 87(3), 268-276
  10. Knox, E. (2014). The books will still be in the library: Narrow Definitions of Censorship in the Discourse of Challengers. Library Trends, 62(4), 740-749.
  11. Kokesh, J., & Sternadori, M. (2015). The good, the bad, and the ugly: A qualitative study of how young adult fiction affects identity construction. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 23(3), 139-158. doi:10.1080/15456870.2015.1013104
  12. Libraries Linking Idaho. (2016). Intellectual freedom and censorship. DOI: https://lili.org/forlibs/ce/able/course12/s2-if-8.htm
  13. Mcmenemy, D. (2008). Selection and censorship: Librarians and their collections. Library Review, 57(5), 341-344.
  14. Oltmann, S. (2017) Creating space at the table: Intellectual freedom can bolster diverse voices. The Library Quarterly 87(4): 410-418.
  15. Self-censorship. (2003). In Merriam-Websterr’s dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA
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Censorship and Self-Censorship. (2019, Jun 12). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from

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