Tintin Banished to the Restricted Section of the Brooklyn Public Library


An article in the New York Times about the Brooklyn Public Library’s decision to remove the book Tintin au Congo from the shelf has sparked a new debate about censorship. After a library patron complained about racist elements in the book, it was moved to a backroom where it is available by appointment only. The library, following the policies it has in place to handle requests for removal, had a panel review the book. They decided it belongs in the historic children’s collection, which is kept behind a locked door.

The library has received a lot of criticism about their decision. Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, writes in the New York Daily News:

We blacks, of course, know racially offensive images when we see them, but we also don’t need librarians protecting us or our children’s wonderment and discovery from “bad” images and messages in books. Where would such paternalism in the forms of censorship and banishment begin and end? Will the librarians also banish “Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain’s classic work, on account that Twain’s book uses the “n” word too many times? Would some parents’ or scanners’ objections to “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” also hold sway and place that book under lock and key, too? Our children, black and white, deserve better.

I don’t want to second guess the Brooklyn Public Library because it seems like this was a tough decision and they handled it according to library policy, which is the appropriate response. According to the article, “New York City libraries have received almost two dozen written objections since 2005. But the book about Tintin was the only challenged item to have been removed from the shelves.” That seems like a pretty good track record, so I’m curious about how they reached their decision for Tintin. Personally, I think books like these are part of our society’s historical record and we can use them to teach children about racism, and I wonder if the library considered that when making their decision.

I think it’s great that people are talking about intellectual freedom. If anything, the New York Times article raised people’s awareness that censorship is a very real issue in the US as librarians across the country receive complaints about books everyday. BannedBooksWeek.org has a really cool map available on their website that shows book bans and challenges in the US from 2007-2009. Check it out to see if any books have been banned in your state.

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