or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 11/6/11

   November 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Show Me! A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents - Photography and Captions by Will McBride - Explanatory Text by Dr. Helga Fleischhauer-HardtThis was a bit bizarre. Three or four weeks ago, a woman came to the reference desk holding her Blackberry. English was not her first language, so there was a bit of a language barrier, but on her Blackberry was a photo of a book titled Show Me!

I didn't recognize it, but from what I could piece together of her story, she had found this book in the home of friends of hers. She felt it contained child pornography, and wanted to know if the book was illegal. She said she noticed it while they were all sitting around talking, but as soon as her friend went into another room, she rushed over, snapped a covert photo, and then ran out of the house and came straight to the library. She wanted to know if the library had a copy and if it was legal to check it out.

I tried to explain that "legal" and "illegal" usually doesn't actually come into play - but if it would with anything, it would be child pornography. However, her photo of the book wasn't clear enough to read the author's name, and a search on Amazon for Show Me produced a lot of results, with none matching the cover (although there were a few that were slightly uncomfortable to skim through in this context).

After a few pages of results, I think she understood that there were a lot of books with "Show Me" in the title. I told her if she could get the author's name from the book the next time she goes to her friend's house, then we'd have a better chance of finding the book.

As she walked away, I actually thought, "well, that was weird, and I will never see her again."

So I was surprised when the woman returned this week. She walked up to me as if no time at all had passed, and just said,

The author is Mac Bride.

I don't have the greatest memory for faces, but for some reason immediately knew who she was and what she was talking about. I searched for "show me mac bride," which lead to a Wikipedia article on the book Show Me!, by Will McBride (the Mac Bride/McBride mistake was me not getting over the language barrier right away).

According to the article, this book does have a history of being challenged in court, but the outcome was not definite. Distribution of the book was stopped to avoid potential legal challenges, and some libraries withdrew it from their collection, but the Supreme Court case cited seemed to only allow the government to ban the sale of the book (not owning it or loaning it, although I am no legal scholar).

We do not own a copy of this book, but I did find a copy at the Boston Public Library (through the state-wide Virtual Catalog), and told her we could request it if she wanted. She asked again if it was legal to take that book out of the library, and I said that yes, it was. Someone could challenge the library making it available, but that it didn't seem illegal to have it.

With that, she said thanks, that's all she wanted to know, and left.



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Fight Tyranny: Read Banned Books

   September 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Banned Books WeekThis year's Banned Books Week is September 29 - October 6.

Which is rather fortuitous timing, considering this week's attack on the freedom to read in Lewiston, Maine.

Librarians (and teachers and others) often make a big deal of Banned Books Week (BBW), and many people don't understand why. Who cares? No matter how hard groups fight to ban a book, anyone can always go to the local bookstore and buy it anyway, right?

The point is that everyone has the freedom to read whatever interests them. Once a small group is permitted to make decisions for the whole, and force their views on everyone, then this is no longer a free society.

So, during Banned Books Week - and every other week of the year - read what appeals to you. And be a better person for it.

For more information on banned books and Banned Books Week, here are a few good web resources:

And: I know this is borderline immature (I draw my own borders), but, like the "Adult Books" sections of libraries, "BBW" also makes me giggle. Librarians often forget (or don't know), that our abbreviations and jargon sometimes also have other meanings.

banned, banned books, banned books week, bbw, censorship, freedom to read, libraries, library, public libraries, public library



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