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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Does the San Francisco Public Library Ban Books? It Did Once -- The Author Was Worried the U.S. Government Would Invade His Thoughts.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Sadly, you won't find this title at the San Francisco Public Library. But you will find the album Mind Control by Stephen Marley.
  • Sadly, you won't find this title at the San Francisco Public Library. But you will find the album Mind Control by Stephen Marley.
The San Francisco Public Library's planned celebration of "Banned Books Week" -- and online links to the sorts of literature that librarians elsewhere have been compelled to remove from circulation -- provide an opportunity for local folks to feel good about ourselves. Harry Potter promoting blasphemy? A kiddie book about gay penguins causing an uproar? The Kite Runner getting run off shelves? Not in San Francisco it doesn't!

Actually, as much as one should grow suspicious whenever a situation appears skewed to present San Franciscans as wise and enlightened compared to those philistines dragging their knuckles through libraries elsewhere -- it appears we really ought to be proud (if not pretentious) about our local library system. While library patrons can make online requests about what books or videos they'd like to see banned, it just doesn't seem to happen.

The library's collection development director, Laura Lent, says she can recall only one instance in the past decade in which the library opted to pull a book off the shelves as a result of patron insistence. And this patron happened to be the book's author. It was a fictional account of telepathic surveillance of the mind -- and the author felt the book's continued presence in the Main Branch would lead to the government invading his brain. We are not making this up. 

"He was frightened. So we took the book out," says Lent.

How did this self-published book get into the library in the first place? Well, the author lobbied for it. "We decided there is a community for these kind of books. We put one copy in the Main Library and that is where that community tends to use the library," said Lent, evidently a master at diplomacy and subtle insinuation. "There are a number of people there interested in conspiracies and mind control. I think it was in the collection a year or two and it was checked out three or four times -- once via inter-library loan."

And so the author -- whom we will not name lest he be victimized by telepathic CIA-employed fiends -- felt the government was capable of invading his very thoughts, but somehow needed to find a book in the San Francisco Public Library before it did so?

"I'm not saying there aren't contradictions in his point of view," admits Lent. "He was a sincere individual."

So, in short, the SFPL isn't in the habit of yanking books or other materials off the shelves. But people do make requests. Some parents complained that a Vietnamese-language novel contained too much graphic sex. Other parents complained that the Korean movie called Woman Is The Future of Man contained -- wait for it --- too much graphic sex. An educational movie about abortion called If These Walls Could Talk contained -- Cher!  

More often, library users will complain that the collection could use more literature on a certain subject. Oftentimes these subjects are not the sort of thing one would confidently place under the stylish tent known as "San Francisco Values." For example, the library was offered, free of charge, a trove of books by Intelligent Design boosters. And it took some.

In case you're wondering, yes, you can find books about Holocaust denial, blatant racism, and rampant conspiracy-mongering at the San Francisco Public Library. And, on a far lighter note, you can get anything penned by right-wing talking heads or vitriolic radio shock jocks.

You can also find falsified biographies (see Frey, James) and the works of Vivibear -- a Swedish-Chinese author whose shelf-ful of Chinese-language books have become the allegedly largest undertaking of plagiarism ever accomplished by a single person.

Lent isn't sure what to do about Vivibear -- whose books are popular among local young Chinese readers. If only the author would send a note requesting removal of her work from the library because its continued presence in circulation allows government agents to peer into her mind. That would tie everything up neatly.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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