Monday, November 20, 2006

If Fox had published it?

Fox News announced earlier today that, on second thought, publication of O.J. Simpson's book, If I did it?, wasn't such a hot idea after all. In a rare case of corporate "morality," Fox's owner, Rupert Murdoch, concluded that the initial decision had been "ill-considered." In any case, the book has been cancelled, (for the moment, at least) but the question remains: had the publication proceeded as planned, is this a book that public libraries should be expected to purchase and circulate? My answer? Yes!

Libraries, especially public libraries, are in the business of providing access to information desired by their readers. If our patrons want to read a book, our job is to get it into their hands as quickly, economically, and privately, as possible. This practice is nothing new. Controversial books regularly appear on library shelves and are just as regularly challenged by censors. In fact, the controversy over the Simpson book is reminiscent of the uproar over Andrew MacDonald's novel, The Turner Diaries back in the mid-1990s.

That wierd little book is of negligible literary value, but has nontheless become the bible of American anti-government extremists. In 1995 The Turner Diaries became familiar to a wider audience when excerpts were found in Timothy McVeigh's car when he was arrested after the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing. I'm certainly not an "anti-government extremist," but as a student of literature I wondered what there was about this book that made otherwise normal people into heartless murderers.

So, I figured I'd visit the local library to check it out. After all, I knew that public libraries regularly carried copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, and likewise figured that they'd have no qualms about carrying MacDonald's work. I was very wrong. My then local library did not have a copy, the librarian was not at all interested in getting it via ILL, and it sunk in on me that maybe I shouldn't pursue the issue. So I backed away and didn't think about the incident for more than a decade.

However, while in library school I learned about the father of modern librarianship, S.R. Ranganathan, and his 5 laws of library service. His second and third laws, "Every person his or her book and Every book its reader," require that every library patron should have access to the materials that they desire, and that every book should be likewise available. Ranganathan felt that libraries should be in the business of information dissemination, not restriction.

Ranganathan would be pleased to see that the holdings of the Waterloo Public Library include The Turner Diaries; he would also expect to see us acquire Simpson's If I did it,when and if it becomes available. If the decision to cancel Simpson's book is rescinded, I predict that most public libraries will make it available and that their patrons will have unrestricted access.

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