Deletion of Seuss books ain’t done lightly, library says

The Thunder Bay Public Library’s decision to remove six Dr Seuss books from shelves came after a thorough review, according to senior officials.

THUNDER BAY – The decision to remove Dr Seuss’ books deemed racist by the author’s estate was not taken lightly, according to the Thunder Bay Public Library.

The issue became an ideological news feed after Dr Seuss Enterprises announced in March that he would cease publication of six of his early works.

The announcement came after a review by experts, including educators, who found the books to contain harmful portrayals of non-white characters, the field said.

The Thunder Bay Public Library removed the titles from the shelves the next day, pending review. Two days later, the library announced that the deletion would be final.

He also pledged to a broader review of his collection policy in light of the episode, promising consultation with racialized groups.

The incident clarified the need to engage the community about the diversity – and limitations – of its collection, senior TBPL staff said in an interview in March.

The withdrawal was a “collective decision” that came after a review of its collections policies and extensive discussion between library management, its board of trustees and a group of librarians, CEO and Chief Librarian John said. Pateman.

There is no doubt that the concerns need to be taken seriously, he said.

“What struck us right away was that the request for the removal of these books came from the foundation that manages Dr. Seuss’ estate,” he said. themselves.”

The library as an anti-racist institution

The library’s decision was based on its commitment to function as an anti-racist institution, Pateman said.

Staff launched a review of the six books after Dr Seuss Enterprises announced it was stopping publishing them. The books have been reviewed against the TBPL’s collections management policies, but the decision to remove a book is always based on the context of the work, Pateman said.

A book may be removed from the collection if it is “considered incompatible with the values, vision, purpose and strategic direction of the TBPL”, among other criteria, according to the library. Strategies.

The organization’s five strategic directions include “combating institutional and systemic racism” and “cultivating diversity and inclusion”.

There is a strong argument for preserving some objectionable works, said collections director Angela Meady – but the public library may not be the place to do it, at least when it comes to the material for children.

“If we were a university library, we would have a completely different discussion. I would say we’ll keep these books 100% – they’re part of Seuss’ legacy, they tell the story, ”she said.

“But as a public library where kids browse the shelves, make their own decisions, [when] we are not sure that the parents are going to step in and use this as an opportunity for discussion… we have to make some other kind of decision.

The fact that adults can check Mein Kampf and other racist work from the library shows that she makes different calls in different contexts, Pateman said.

“Maybe over there we would prioritize intellectual freedom because we would say most adults are able to make up their own minds,” he said. “They have ways of putting this into context where kids don’t.”

Alternative solutions to removing the books were considered, but ultimately failed, Meady said.

“We even talked about having a shelf of controversial books that people could access and discuss, but that didn’t really fly, as it still provides this nefarious representation to children, and children are allowed to borrow freely.

A complicated figure

While the conversation around racist portrayals in Seuss’ books may seem new, it has been brewing for decades, Meady said.

“As early as the 1970s, there were rumblings of certain racist undertones there,” she noted.

In 1978, Seuss himself redrawn and redesigned a Chinese character in Mulberry Street, first published in 1937.

“He basically said 50 years ago that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow – but now that doesn’t seem appropriate,” Meady said. “Now more time has passed, and you look at it and it’s still pretty humiliating.”

Seuss remains a complicated figure, she said.

As a political cartoonist in the 1940s, he addressed anti-Semitism and anti-black racism, while also supporting the internment of Japanese Americans. His works contain allegories to include as well as crass racial stereotypes.

“He had a pretty advanced political vision, but as a person of his time he also absorbed all of those tropes, and that was reflected,” Meady said. “We don’t want this to continue – we don’t want to see these racist representations become part of what is normal for children in the future.”

One of the ironies of the outcry over the deletion of the books is that they were among Seuss’ least-read works, Meady said.

“These books have been on our shelves for a long time without being loved or chosen by people – [readers] have sort of done their own deselection already, ”she said. “McElligot’s Pool hasn’t played for us in a long time, and probably would have just been knocked out [anyway]. “

The impact of under-representation

The under-representation has very real impacts for racialized children, although it may escape the attention of many white readers, said Laura Prinselaar, librarian at TBPL’s community center.

“There is a way to talk about the importance of diversity in the literature we use in the library world, and it is about providing windows and mirrors for children – or for any reader. She said.

“If the only mirror you have of yourself is this humiliating, hurtful, stereotypical portrayal… It can have a really negative impact and it really means something. When you only have one example to choose, the weight of it is different from [having] many role models, many examples that you can see of yourself and your culture. “

Prinselaar pointed out how people of color are rarely portrayed in children’s literature – something that is only recently starting to change, she said.

“I mean, there are a lot more picture books with animal characters than those that show families that are black or have some other racialized background – that’s a fact,” she said. declared.

Pateman agreed, calling it a systemic problem in the publishing industry.

“There are surprisingly few black authors of children’s picture books, for example,” he said. “It’s growing now … but for a long time there were very few picture books that even had a portrayal of other cultures, let alone a positive portrayal.”

Build a diverse collection

This shows that removing objectionable books is only a tiny part of the solution, staff agreed.

“We talked about things that we are removing,” said Prinselaar. “A lot of our work, probably some that we’re further away with, is on the other side, reinforcing the diversity and inclusiveness of our collection.”

The library performed a diversity audit on parts of its collection, including the children’s section. This resulted in the addition of several hundred new children’s books to diversify the collection, Meady said.

Library policies also favor “clean” materials.

“Basically he’s saying if you’re going to have a book about a particular marginalized group, it should be written by an author who has had an experience,” she explained.

Every book in the library’s Indigenous Knowledge Center has been written by an Indigenous author and / or illustrator, for example.

The policy of “own voices” does not deny that books written from an outside perspective can be valuable, Meady said, but puts forward and central voices that have long been missing.

A higher standard

While this is a smaller piece of the puzzle, Seuss’ example shows that there is probably more work to be done to eliminate children’s books with problematic content, Pateman said.

“Maybe we need to [be more proactive] and do more removal of the items in our collection that sit there very quietly right now, like Dr Seuss’ books were before it all exploded, ”he said.

“We have what I would call a healthy collection, but… there are bound to be a few, or maybe more than a few, that won’t meet the new, higher standard that we’re going to apply to the to come up.”

Meady agreed that Seuss’ books were probably not alone, but considered them to be an outlier.

“I can tell you with confidence that we are not going to find hundreds of books in our children’s collection that look like this,” she says. “But when and if we do, because I’m sure there are, we’ll look at them with the same scrutiny and intellectual rigor… every case is different.

The library is committed to soliciting feedback from racialized members of the community on its collections policies after removing the books from Seuss.

The TBPL itself has no black or indigenous people around its management table, Pateman admitted.

Still, he said the library is striving to be a genuinely anti-racist institution and the consultations will equip staff with better tools to build the best collection for the community.

“Just taking books off the shelves – I mean, it’s a form of action, but it’s pretty passive in some ways,” he said. “That’s why we want to take the second step of community consultation to review our current collections management policy and make it even better than it is now.”

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