Should we be getting rid of old books?

During a librarian meeting in September, we were told to cull our collections, getting rid of books that portray people of diverse ancestry poorly. I kind of get it but I also kind of don’t.

We should be teaching students how to read critically before getting rid of material that might expose them to a controversial idea. The worry seems to be that students won’t see themselves in the material or that they’ll be given the wrong portrayal of people of colour. If students were critical readers, they would know to question the material and dig deeper into the issue before forming an opinion. They would be exposed to more and varied material, allowing them to see both sides of an argument. Students need to be challenged, not coddled.

Exposure to a range of viewpoints will help students develop empathy, an emotion and skill that seems to be lacking these days. Students should be shown portraits of peoples’ lives, those who are like them and those who are different.

I don’t think that the argument is to remove all conflicting viewpoints from the shelves. The push for a more diverse canon of authors to choose from will only serve to introduce new ideas into students’ lives. Through more contemporary stories, the setting and traits of the characters will be more relatable for students. A lot of good will come through a concert effort to diversify a library’s collection.

I’m not sure that getting rid of older material is helpful, though. Because there are new, contemporary ideas being made available, the old ideas don’t cease to exist. Though they may be contested by our social norms and morals, the ideas remain a part of our history; without those ideas, the ones we have today would not have come.

The issue is likely more complicated than I’m making it out to be. Or, it’s straightforward and simple. I think what bothers me the most about this initiative is that the students are being protected instead of learning how to fend for themselves. How they going to become resilient? How are they going to persevere? Why would they want to work for something when they’ve never had to worry? Why can’t students become upset because of something they learned in school?

I don’t know. Book burnings were considered a bad thing and this is too far off that mark.


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