I try to be helpful, so when someone emails me asking me weigh in on a certain topic, I’m going to try to oblige. OK, this has straight up never happened to me before, but it’s the kind of topic librarians love to argue about until we make ourselves sick and then we all just hate each other: Censorship. It’s not as easy to discuss as it seems. In library school, we’re taught “Every Books Its Reader”, etc. etc. and it’s never really as easy as all that. I’m talking about ALSC’s recent post about the book Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? by Sheila Butt. Yes. Sheila Butt. Hehe. I digress. The folks at ALSC posed this question, does this children’s book, written to “combat the promotion of homosexuality”, belong on your library shelves?

Does God Love Michael's Two Daddies

Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

I once worked at a private library with a historical children’s collection, and we had some pretty weird stuff in the closed stacks. The closed stacks collection could circulate and would show up in the catalog, but it wasn’t on the shelves that were accessible to children. In the closed stacks, you’d find titles that were too old and delicate to be handled all the time. Sometimes a book was a first edition or one of the few copies left in the area. Sometimes a book fell under these criteria AND had some “questionable” characteristics (for example, we definitely owned The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Hutchet Bishop. Great story, terrifying illustrations). If a child requested the book, hopefully their parents were around. I could explain that the book might not be appropriate for a school report (for example, be wary of the word “savage”, which was used, willy nilly, in place of “Native American” and other minorities), but I would never refuse the book to anyone. Often, people would want to look at these books for use in a paper or dissertation on historic children’s literature. Sometimes people were in search of some sort of nostalgic fix. I have no problem with any of this. Some libraries own Little Black SamboSome own Bishop’s version of The Five Chinese Brothers. Does this mean that they should own Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? Maybe. But probably not.

Little Black Sambo and The Five Chinese Brothers, offensive as they are (though I definitely know some older folks with fond memories of Sambo, as they were too young to know that the books played on stereotypes. I think many kids saw the Sambo books as little adventures and nothing more), are for better or worse, part of the history of children’s literature. They’ll probably always have a place in libraries. Butt’s (heheh) book is too new to know if it will have any real impact on children’s literature. I can’t find a single real reviewer of Does God Love…. We don’t really buy any  title for our collection unless it’s by an established author, is well (or well-ish) reviewed by Horn Book or Kirkus or someone like that, or has some sort of Fifty Shades of CrayCray following (ie Low quality but very high interest). Butt’s book doesn’t fall into any of these categories. I’ve seen very low reader’s reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (at the time of this blog post, 1.5 stars TOPS). If Does God Love… gets some real reviews or is asked for by a huge surge of patrons (hopefully I’m not starting some sort of annoying grassroots Sheila Butt movement), we’ll talk.

If this happens, if Sheila Butt (ha! Butt! No, seriously. Stop it), somehow becomes a national phenomenon and is a guest on the View and has a big old kiki with Barbra Walters and Elizabeth Bird decided that Butt is Mo Willems meets Margaret Wise Brown with a tinge of Jackie Wilson (if she were a homophobe), then my big old liberal gay-loving butt (haha! No, a different kind of butt. Not a Sheila Butt), is going to have to deal with this book being in my library. And you know what? I already deal with books I hate on a daily basis. Orson Scott Card? HATE HIM. Seriously. I want to push all his books off a cliff. I don’t though. There’s something in the handbook about how I’m not supposed to do that. The only thing stopping me from having a festive old-fashioned book burning with his titles is this quote from my former professor, Mary Kay Chelton:

“[But] this is not to say that such views from organized religion are not hurtful to gays, but as in most things, people don’t always come in nice ideologically pure packages…I’m just damn glad the man writes books. “

Other books I’d like to vaporize, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt which scarred me for life (see also any other dead dog/cat stories), Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, which had such despicable violence against women I had nightmares about it, any of Bill O’Reilly’s books for kids, Twilight (not just because it’s vapid, but because I think Bella Swan is the world’s worst role-model), and The Rules or any of its ilk that is repulsive woman-hate wrapped up in a little self-help disguise. These are all in my library! I have yet to use any of these books as toilet paper.

When I read nonsense about Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? being excluded from libraries because we’re a bunch of bleeding hearts who spend every weekend in rainbow body paint at the Gay Pride Parade (which let’s face it, we kinda are), I can’t help but roll my eyes. Most librarians have things in their collection that make them at least a little sick to their stomachs. Butt’s book is excluded for a variety of reasons (which I stated above), but not because of idealogical differences.

That said, I’d prefer that Butt’s book never show up in my library. I swear to G-d. I am way too protective of our neighborhood’s kids to deal with this kind of crap. But I say that as a decent human being, not a librarian.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

About magpielibrarian

Youth Services Librarian, Mediocre Crafter, Urban Magpie, Glitter Addict, and Worshiper of Ridiculous Outfits, Emerging Leader 2012, Former Rainbow Book List Member, and GLBT RT Director-at-Large! This is what a librarian looks like, kids.

27 responses »

  1. This is a tough topic. I can totally see something like this book (or another in a similar vein) potentially coming up at my conservative community. I (like all selectors) try to create a balanced collection. I buy a lot of Christian books and movies that there is no way in heck I personally support (anything Focus on the Family skeeves me out) but I also know these books are checked out like crazy at my library. You have presented a good argument as to why this book should not be included in libraries without touching on the awfulness of the topic. As usual, you are impressive.

  2. Sara B says:

    “But I say that as a decent human being, not a librarian.” I love that. If I had it my way, every one of my kids would be reading “Killer Koalas from Outer Space” or “Sweet Farts: Rippin it Old School”. My preferences don’t dictate my collection development, nor should they.

  3. Dan Kleinman says:

    Magpie said something that goes directly against intellectual freedom principles as proclaimed by none other than Judith Krug, the creator of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and 40 year de facto leader of the ALA. Magpie is setting up a false excuse for pushing her worldview on libraries and providing it as an example for others. Sort of an intellectual straightjacket, not intellectual freedom. I’ll prove it simply by quoting Magpie then quoting Judith Krug. By doing this, I am hoping librarians who read this will see the intellectual freedom issue and not adopt Magpie’s straightjacket, not use the selection process as a means for “censorship,” as Magpie is doing.

    Magpie said, “I can’t find a single _real_ reviewer of _Does God Love_…. We don’t really buy _any_ title for our collection unless it’s by an established author, is well (or well-ish) reviewed by _Horn Book_ or _Kirkus_ or someone like that….”

    Compare that to Judith Krug, and note especially the last two sentences:

    We have to serve the information needs of all the community and for so long “the community” that we served was the visible community…. And so, if we didn’t see those people, then we didn’t have to include them in our service arena. The truth is, we do have to.…

    We never served the gay community. Now, we didn’t serve the gay community, because there weren’t materials to serve them. You can’t buy materials if they’re not there. But part of our responsibility is to identify what we need and then to begin to ask for it. Another thing we have to be real careful about is that even though the materials that come out initially aren’t wonderful, it’s still incumbent upon us to have that voice represented in the collection. This was exactly what happened in the early days of the women’s movement, and as the black community became more visible and began to demand more materials that fulfilled their particular information needs. We can’t sit back and say, “Well, they’re not the high-quality materials I’m used to buying.” They’re probably not, but if they are the only thing available, then I believe we have to get them into the library.

    • OK, Dan, if my criteria are quality and/or community need, and there are roughly 20,000 children’s books published per year and about 5,000 YA titles per year, and you couldn’t possibly buy them all, how do YOU choose books for your library?

      • Dan Kleinman says:

        What Krug said is right.

      • That’s not really answering my question, and I’m sorry to say that until you answer it, I’m not really going to engage with you. Comments should be a discussion, not a monologue.

      • Dan Kleinman says:

        Okay, Magpie, I would do what you are doing, but I would be mindful of what Krug said. If I came across a genre of books I didn’t like and my library did not have, say books about ex-gays, I would be mindful of what Krug said and include the books.

        By the way, would you mind please unblocking my SafeLibraries twitter account so I can follow you and perhaps retweet you? You don’t have to follow me, of course, just please unblock me.

      • That’s not a collection development policy.
        And no. Just because I’m a librarian who believes in the 1st Amendment, it does not mean I have to follow you on Twitter.

    • Kim says:

      Or, Dan, you can simply do as I did during my many years of Children’s librarianship: wait until something better comes along. Simply because something is THERE doesn’t mean one has to buy it, especially if one’s patrons aren’t requesting it and the material is inferior in quality.

      • Dan Kleinman says:

        Agree, Kim, but that was not where Judith Krug was going. She was saying people were ignoring an entire genre, shall we say, of work, in Krug’s case at that time, of gay material. In Magpie’s case, the genre she is discussing by way of the book at issue would be “anti-gay” material. (I have not read the book and have no idea if it is truly anti-gay.) As Krug said, “But part of our responsibility is to identify what we need and then to begin to ask for it.”

        Let me know if you would like me to find a link to the entire Krug quote.

  4. Kim says:

    Well, then, Dan, why did you start a big deal over a book you haven’t even read? That’s a classic tactic I find with people who make a big deal over books– yea or nay– at least 90% of the time, they haven’t read the book/watched the movie/listened to the album etc. Usually justified by “I don’t NEED to– I know enough about it”, which I find puzzling. How can you judge something without knowing the whole subject, only bits and pieces? Without knowing what the author was trying to say?

    • Dan Kleinman says:

      Kim, I did not “start a big deal” or use a “classic tactic.” Magpie raised a legitimate issue already raised on the ALSC blog. She commented there and politely linked here saying she had so much to write she would do it here. She did. I responded to her, at least as to her statement that goes counter to what Judith Krug has previously said. Many people there and here are discussing the issue. I commented there as well. From what I can tell, no one here or there has yet read this book. Please do not single me out for not reading this book. Certainly people can discuss the issue raised at ALSC and now here without having read the book.

  5. Kim says:

    Dan, you’re trying to force prejudice into a moral argument, and it’s not working. The book only shows one side of the story; the side that has always prevailed (white, Christian, heterosexual male privilege). The books about homosexuality that came before Heather Has Two Mommies and so on either ignored it, indulged in disgusting behavior by referring to them as freaks of nature or worse, or treated it as a horrific condition to be hidden away. This Butt book is trying to do the same thing under the guise of being “all forgiving”, ignoring the fact that a lot of people aren’t Christian (OMG! NOT SAVED!!), trying to restore the patriarchy to people who’d rather it be forgotten.

    • I will respond more to what Daniel says a) when he’s read the book or b) has added it to his library’s collection (that would be a true test. Does the book go out? Is it well-received? You know, if the book doesn’t circulate, we don’t get that money back) or c) tells us how we should choose books for a children’s library when there are 20,000 kids’ books published a year and we can’t buy them all. What are his collection development policies? I’ve stated mine: Author recognition, quality, and/or community demand. He’s saying vague things about Judith Krug.
      Other than that, he’s just going to spout Judith Krug at us, a person that he himself doesn’t totally agree with (by the looks of Dan’s website).

      • Kim says:

        Yeah, I can just see that book flying off the shelves! Holds up the wazoo!

        …enough snark. I remember some of the crappy stuff I had to buy because some (very wealthy) patrons wouldn’t buy it for their kids themselves, but wanted to read it to their children/have their kids read it. “The Smart Little Saver” was one I remember in particular. It went out about three times in seven years. o_O There were other, wonderful books I could have bought, but that guy INSISTED that he wanted that book in the collection.

        And yes, I went by your standard collection development policy. Even so far as first purchases were starred reviews by the Big Three: SLJ, Horn Book, and Kirkus. Really diehard, was I! I had some wiggle room, of course, but I wanted to say I bought the best of the best.

  6. Kim says:

    Dan, kindly do not tell me what to do, or say. I stand by my statement: As a librarian, in my experience, the people who raise the greatest fuss about a book or other item have never read or otherwise used the item in question. At least 90% of the time.

  7. Kim says:

    Dan, my arguments are neither irrelevant nor hostile. If my statement was unclear, please tell me what you don’t understand and I’ll be happy to explain. What I meant was that you’re trying to make prejudice against a specific group of people OK, moral. Does that make sense?

  8. Lets not feed Dan the energy monster, please. I think you made excellent points in your post. We (libraries) need to have an unbiased selection process because one simply does not have the money nor the space to buy every book that has ever been published. We cannot, in this day and age, go by the “if we have it, they will come” adage. Finally, as a Christian, I do believe that God loves Michael’s 2 Dads. So, hey, problem solved!

  9. Beth says:

    I would not buy a book that poorly illustrated for my collection, regardless of the content. It would not circulate. I have scores of Christian (and Muslim, and Jewish etc) children’s books in my collection. Would this be countering the opinion of those Christian books that tell kids God loves them just the way they are? Ha.

  10. Shannon says:

    This is one of those times when I am glad to be a para-pro instead of a full librarian. I don’t have to wrestle with these issues at all, since I don’t do the purchasing. But as a person, it makes me sick to think that this might be included on anyones shelf, library or home (assuming it is an anti-gay picture book). I almost want to read it to my own children, so I can point out how wrong it is.

    • The fact that anyone would call an anti-gay/hate movement or homophobes a “community” or compare them to the plight of Black Americans or the feminist movement makes me sick. Very much agreed with you, Sharon.

  11. Natalie says:

    My library’s collection has a ton of political books that I would never read, yet we buy because there are members of the community that have that worldview.

    When it comes to topics such as homosexuality though, that’s a different bailiwick. Before Heather Had Two Mommies, there weren’t any books out there for children to explain the topic or find a book that reflect their lives.

    Would I buy the G-d book? No. If a patron requested it, I’d look for reviews and see if it was worth buying. Based on what’s been said, it was published a few years ago and doesn’t have many positive reviews. I would offer to get it from another library for the patron, but based on publication date alone, the chances of me buying it would be slim.

    That’s not censorship. That’s smart collection development in my opinion. I wouldn’t buy a book about East Germany because it doesn’t exist. We weed out dated books all the time and that is a dated book.

    I don’t like half the books I buy for the teens (Lauren Conrad, really?), but I know they love them and ask for them, so I buy them.

    I get what my community wants when I can and if it fits in our collection development policy.

    • I had hoped I could delete the Lauren Conrad books when I was weeding, but dammit. They’re really popular and get amazing circ. So they have to stay.
      And yeah, this Does God Love Blah Blah book is almost ridiculous to argue over. I think that even if I wanted a copy, I couldn’t access one.

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