Friday, February 15, 2013

Do you burn books?

Book burning is always a bit extreme.
I spotted a tweet the other day from author Richard Paul Evans. (The Christmas Box is his bestseller.)
Someone just told me they are burning all the copies of my books in the church library because of the scene I wrote about Alan with Analise in The Road to Grace. I thought it was a very real and moving scene. It's the first complaint I've received about the book. What do you think?
(You can read the responses of his Facebook fans here)

The Road to Grace tells the story of Alan, trekking by foot across the USA to deal with the sudden loss of his wife home and business.  Analise takes him into her house for a meal and place to stay for the night. In the middle of the night he awakes  to see her standing "in the doorway, her petite figure silhouetted by the light of the foyer."  She asks him to make love to her and he declines  "because you're not mine."  Nevertheless they spend the night together.  In the pale light of dawn she breathily whispers "Thank you...for saying no and for holding me."

(Can I just roll my eyes here and  say "Oh brother!"?)

I don't know if I can believe that the book is actually being burnt;  I could imagine it being withdrawn after an influential and conservative member of the congregation objected.  And that raises the question of how it got into the church library in the first place.

Your church library should have posted clear, written guidelines to help you and the congregation understand what belongs in the the collection.  Then, when there is an objection to material, you have  criteria to use in evaluating the complaint.

Here's a very basic selection guideline I've used. It includes the library's mission statement which echoes the church's mission statement:

(The xyz) Church Library exists to help people connect to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The library seeks to achieve this mission by collecting, organizing, and providing access to quality materials which will help the people of (the xyz) Church connect with God, His Word, His people and His world.

Material in the collection:
  • Compliment the mission of (the xyz) Church
  • Reflect a Christian viewpoint
  • Is in harmony with the doctrines of the (XYZ denomination)
  • Is of interest to a wide range of (the xyz) Church people
The library committee seeks to develop and maintain a collection that is:
  • Relevant
  • Useful
  • Informative
  • Edifying
  • Balanced
  • Of lasting value
  • Well-written and well-presented
  • Accessible
I'm not sure if Evans' work would be collected in the xyz church library; his Mormon affiliation might raise eyebrows in the congregation as would the fact that the book comes from a secular publishing house. The reviews are favourable but allude only to "religious content with a broad appeal."   On their own each of these considerations might not be a "deal-breaker" but taken together the xyz church librarian might proceed with caution.  (Incidentally some of Evans' fans noted that Mormon church libraries do not include works of fiction at all.)

However, if The Road to Grace was selected for it's literary, thematic, and mission-supporting value and if a reader called for it's removal,  clear selection guidelines provide a basis for discussion that goes beyond "I didn't like this."  For example, the reader and librarian could talk about the church's and denomination's view of extra-marital sex, about how the book portrays dealing with temptation; and about whether the character is a worthy role model. The librarian might need to defend the choice by explaining how the work supports the mission, or listen carefully to the complainant to hear how it works against those goals.

Ultimately it should be a discussion that's more light than heat.

Do you have a selection policy?  How do you deal with objections to material in the collection? Use the comment box to share your ideas.

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