24 August 2009

BPL Publishes, Then Retracts, Tintin Response

Brooklyn Public Library sequestered Tintin and the world continues to be scandalized. From the Bay Ridge blogosphere to the French literary press, everyone's picking up the story. Amidst the hubbub, BPL's No Shush Zone responded to the growing criticism, but their August 22nd post has since been taken down (shushed!). Here it is, saved from the brink of virtual obsolescence by my handy feed reader:

Hi All-

We know there's been a lot of chatter on the web about the NY Times piece about Tintin Au Congo, and we love the good-natured discussion, and the heated debates. But we've also seen some facts we'd like to correct, so please read on.

Our special collections -- such as the Hunt Collection and the Brooklyn Collection -- are areas at Central Library in which we offer and store rare, irreplaceable and delicate materials.

Tintin au Congo was relocated to the Hunt Collection at Central Library about three years ago after it was determined by a committee that reviews book challenges to have content that is questionable for children. Yes, the Hunt Collection is a vaulted room, but not for "offensive" or "banned" books, but a special collection that consists of approximately 7,000 juvenile books, pamphlets, and periodicals dating back to the 1740s and concluding with materials published in the 1950s, including some first editions. Included are classic children’s literary texts, special limited and illustrated editions and books written and/or illustrated by people affiliated with Brooklyn. So the titles kept here are often out of print, rare and of historical significance; this special collection was appraised at over $400,000. Tintin Au Congo fits into the collection perfectly as a rare title of historical significance that needs safekeeping.

So now Tintin au Congo lives in a room in Central Library with other priceless works so we can keep it safe… as well as keep it close at hand in case an interested customer wants to view it. This title -- as well as others in the Hunt Collection -- is listed in our catalog as a title available to the public, and is viewable by appointment.

BPL will also offer tours of the Hunt Collection as part of Open House NYC. More information on those tours will be available in mid-September.

I agree that a "rare title of historical significance" ought to be housed in a special collection. And I'm quite fond of the Hunt Collection -- I cataloged a portion of it during my library school internship at BPL back in 2003. However, Tintin au Congo wasn't removed from circulation due to preservation concerns, but for it's "questionable" content.

As Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition writes in a recent NY Daily News op-ed, "Banishing of books is bad form and bad library science, and if it catches on all that will pass for acceptable and available reading for children and adults alike will amount to pabulum and the homogenized opinions approved by the self-righteous among us who always think - and are so sure they know - what's good and what's bad for the rest of us."

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