Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 Jefferson Muzzle "Winners"

The following excerpt comes from The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.  The annual Jefferson Muzzles were recently announced.  The Muzzles are given to those responsible for "some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression occurring in the previous year."  A number of these were related to government agencies, institutions such as The Smithsonian, and even a correctional facility.  But the one that stands out and seems worthy of sharing on this blog, is the Muzzle given to Gail Sweet, Director of the Burlington County Library System....

What do you mean, ‘No such book’? It was here last week!
For sidestepping the library’s formal policy for handling controversial materials by yanking Revolution Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the shelves of the entire library system upon the receipt of a single, informal complaint, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle goes to… Gail Sweet, Director of the Burlington County (New Jersey) Library System.
Cramer Political CartoonIt’s an old story: controversial books being challenged, censored and banned in schools and libraries for fear that their content will negatively affect the youth who choose to read them.
Due to the frequency of such literary controversies, most schools and library systems have policies and procedures in place to determine the course of action when concerned parents and members of the general public inevitably lodge complaints. The public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, is no exception. If a patron of the library is uncomfortable with materials found on the library’s shelves, he or she can fill out a formal “Request for Reconsideration Form,” and a committee made up of staff members appointed by the Library Director will then review the materials in question and issue a decision. This is a clear, straightforward process that takes into consideration multiple points of view. Alas, this process was not implemented when controversy arose over Amy Sonnie’s anthology.
Revolutionary VoicesWhen Beverly Marinelli, a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, complained that this collection of essays, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology—written by LGBT youth describing the personal and familial struggles of their coming-out experiences—was “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” Gail Sweet, the Library Director of the Burlington County system, ignored the established policy in favor of a sweeping ban of this book, such that it was no longer available to any patrons, not even to adults.
Although many consider this anthology to be a uniquely poignant first-person resource for teens grappling with questions about their own sexuality, Marinelli is well within her rights in challenging the book’s presence in her public library system. However, Sweet circumvented the formal process in favor of an immediate prohibition of Revolutionary Voices from the entire system. In an email, Sweet conceded that “[t]here was no official challenge, no actual vote by the commissioners.” She justified the swift decision by classifying Sonnie’s anthology as “child pornography,” but this is not a classification that is hers alone to make; there is a formal process for complaints, a process that Sweet chose to sidestep. Other community members and library staff have a right to contribute their voices to a formal debate regarding the book’s availability.
For failing to insist that the library’s official policy be implemented, as well as for appearing to set a precedent that any disgruntled community member can trigger the removal of controversial materials from the entire library system, we bestow upon the public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

This and all other "winners" of this year's Jefferson Muzzles can be found here.

What do you think of these awards?  Do you think the situation with Gail Sweet merits the "winning" of a Muzzle?  Let me know what you think....

As always, thanks for listening!

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