Librarian Scott R. DiMarco is proud to admit that he banned a book from his library at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. But he isn’t an unapologetic censor — he did it to teach his community a lesson about “the arbitrary and capricious nature of censorship.”
DiMarco recently wrote about his experience for the Association of College & Research Libraries. After lackluster attendance for Banned Books Week programming last fall, Di Marco decided to follow through on a joke made by local author and university staffer Dennis Miller:
The sixth [panel attendee] was Dennis Miller, our public relations director, who recently published his second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance. As we talked about various books that are still being banned at different locations around the country, Miller said, “You should ban mine. It has sex, violence and adult language.”
When staff members suggested that DiMarco do precisely what Miller suggested as an object lesson in censorship, DiMarco contacted Miller and got his blessing. DiMarco described his reasoning for going to such an extreme:
Our thought was that over the years, the subject of banned books had outlived any sense of uniqueness or urgency. It had become just another cause talked about once a year, usually by a display of banned books that to most people, especially college students, is just abstract.
The reaction from the community was anything but abstract. After DiMarco posted a two-sentence memo announcing the ban on Facebook, the negative response from students, faculty, and alumni was immediate. DiMarco was contacted buy a local reporter within 20 minutes up putting the post up. Withing 24 hours, a Facebook page protesting the ban was established, garnering responses from freedom to read advocates around the country. After announcing a few days later that the ban was a stunt to make people aware of the harmful effect of censorship, the DiMarco’s action was generally praised for raising awareness about book bans.
DiMarco has succeeded in his quest to make his community aware of censorship, but he found himself disappointed that most of the response was limited to passive — and sometimes rude — Facebook protests. Of all the respondents, only eight people demanded a face-to-face meeting to discuss the ban:
In conclusion, a typical set of programs on the topic of censorship were met by our campus community with general apathy and pleasant indifference. Our unorthodox (okay, heretical) experiment was very successful in highlighting how a simple bureaucratic decision can curb our freedom to read.
DiMarco describes some of the negative response to his actions:
A few people have called this lesson unethical, but the really unethical part of what happened here was that many people simply sat back and said nothing in the face of the outright suppression of a book. I applaud the people—mostly college students—who acted in a constructive and respectful manner to address this censorship issue by their courageous actions in working through the system to have the ban lifted.
Working with the system to lift a book ban means more than sending a Facebook message. As the recent successful defenses of Persepolis, The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower show, grassroots action and informed protest can reverse a bureaucratic (and frequently unilateral) decision to remove a book from shelves. In mobilizing a community to take action in the real world — not just the virtual world — the campaigns in defense of these works were successful in defeating attempts to censor them.