The Offensive Third

While in graduate school, I once saw a movie (based on a book, of course!) called The Name of the Rose starring Christian Slater and Sean Connery. Set in Europe in the 14th century, it is the story of two Benedictine monks during the Inquisition who are sent to a monastery to investigate a series of deaths. They discover that the murders are a result of the protection of the monastery’s famous library, which contained a wealth of information on a plethora of subjects.

The collection was guarded at all costs, and the freedom to view the books was limited only to the highest-ranking monk. By controlling access to information, he wielded great power and control.

Cut to present day…

With regard to collection development in libraries, the rule of thumb is that at least a third of your collection should offend you. It is said that if you don’t have a problem with at least 30% of the materials in the library you are managing, you aren’t doing your job. For example, librarians who are card-carrying members of the ACLU should include books about Focus on the Family, an organization notorious for supporting the pro-life movement.

In theory, this seems unquestionable; however, putting theory to practice can be quite difficult when the librarian whose spouse committed suicide struggles with ordering Fixin' To Die: A Compassionate Guide to Committing Suicide or Staying Alive by David Lester. (See review at

Librarians do possess a certain level of power and control because we are gatekeepers of the information to which people have access. When we refrain from selecting certain materials (i.e., those that could be used by readers to harm themselves or others), are we abusing our positions, or are we being responsible citizens?

Another question: should you be the parents of young children in whom you are seeking to instill certain faith-based ideals, would you object to your child having access to books about the practice of witchcraft? (Harry Potter fans, lay off…I’m one of you! Not talking about works of fiction here.)