Just before Freedom to Read Week 2015, Toronto Public Library banned an author

  • The library made up an excuse (“out of scope”) not to add three books on manhood by Jack Donovan to its collection

    Covers of ‘The Way of Men,’ ‘Blood-Brotherhood,’ ‘A Sky Without Eagles’
  • An unpublished briefing note for the TPL Board revealed the real reason: This “fringe” writer’s books “are intensely misogynistic”

  • The department that selects works for the TPL collection is all-female

  • TPL’s Materials Selection Policy emphasizes that a variety of views will be expressed by the library’s collection… unless women in one department dislike an author’s claimed politics

  • TPL effectively banned an author from its collection (not a book, which itself was previously unthinkable, but an entire author) and kept it secret

I submit more blue forms (title-suggestion forms) to the Toronto Public Library than anyone else. Running the numbers, I see 282 titles, encompassing thousands of individual pieces, that the library bought on my suggestion. I have an emphasis on foundational gay and lesbian cinema and on graphic design.

On the obverse of the blue form, TPL lists a limited set of reasons to reject a suggestion. Last fall, I saw a new excuse for rejection on several of my items – “out of scope” for TPL’s collection.

I challenged that in a letter to the Board, which appeared to have the expected result – none. (My letter was merely received for information, i.e., filed.) I contended that Collections Development could not make up new reasons to reject suggestions and asked that they simply be honest about what was going on – those items did not suit the taste of the staff at Collections Development.

Three of those suggestions were for the books of Jack Donovan, a gay male – he would prefer “homosexual” – who writes about the virtues of manhood and masculinity. (Already half my readership has its hackles up, because it is axiomatic – to them – that masculinity is a virtue only if a female-to-male transsexual claims to have it. I’ll get back to political biases later.)

I filed an access-to-information request and was shocked to see an unsigned internal briefing note that was apparently presented to the TPL Board, in response to my letter, in October 2014. The TPL Board kept this briefing note secret. To quote the relevant paragraph (link – to Wikipedia! – added):

Books by Jack Donovan – a fringe writer whose books are intensely misogynistic and against what he calls feminized gay men. We do have a number of books with a positive view of masculinity and gay men, e.g. Why Are Faggots So Afraid Of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform (2012), Masculine Identities: The History and Meanings of Manliness (2012).

There you have it: The ladies of Toronto Public Library banned a “fringe” author because he is “misogynist” according to Wikipedia.

Do you want your library banning books?

No – that’s absurd. Besides, this is Freedom to Read Week, when the library blogs extensively on the importance of that freedom (even on its Tumblr).

Do you want your library banning an author? Well, it did. You didn’t know about it till now. And half of you probably agree with doing so.

Let’s talk about policy

TPL’s Materials Selection Policy goes to great lengths to underscore the importance of a wide variety of views and the overarching importance of anticensorship.

The library receives at most ten requests per year from the public to remove or censor items. They’re almost always rejected, and the reasons used draw heavily from the Materials Selection Policy. In fact, having read all the reports of requests for “reconsideration” from 2008 to present, it’s obvious that conservative extremists and Christian religious fundamentalists are filing most of the complaints. Reading between the lines, I see that the response inside Collections Development is to sigh heavily, mix and match wording from the Materials Selection Policy, and publish the whole thing as a way of saying “For heaven’s sake, no, we are not removing anything to suit your personal political biases.”

Unless those biases are dearly held by the all-female staff of Collections Development.

I don’t have to mount a defence of Jack Donovan

I don’t have to counter TPL’s internal political biases. I just have to state that warmed-over liberal feminism, while all well and good as a philosophy shared by every woman at a certain library department, cannot form the basis of yes-or-no decisions about what to add to a library collection. One man’s misogyny is another woman’s misandry. Your personal political beliefs, mine, Donovan’s, or anyone else’s are irrelevant to the discussion. The department that chooses what is added to the Toronto Public Library is the last to learn this lesson.

If your library doesn’t have items you hate, your library sucks.

On what the library purports are the facts of the matter:

  • “Fringe” status is purely pejorative and has no bearing on library acquisitions. By that criterion, first books by authors published by small presses would not be added to the library, nor would the independent gay and lesbian documentaries or graphic-design books for which I’ve submitted blue forms. The Way of Men sold 15,000 copies, Donovan claims, and was just translated into French. Compare that to any small-press book by a Canadian author and tell me who’s “fringe.” (Or don’t even bother, because it’s a red herring. And anyway, I have praised TPL for stocking “fringe” titles.)

  • The claimed alternatives are actually at odds with Donovan’s work.

    • I’m pretty sure the only reason the library cited Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? was the frisson of using the word “faggots” twice. This collection, which I have actually read, is edited by a queer transgendered person and actively rejects masculinity among gay men. Two chapters are written by women masquerading as men.

      UPDATE: I posted some pictures of representative pages of this book. Try telling me it’s pro-male.

    • Masculine Identities is purely academic and contains but a single chapter on “same-sex attraction.”

    TPL just name-dropped those titles, obviously without even reading them. (How does “Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?” relate to positive views of masculinity?) But I looked them up.

    If the contention is the library has enough books on that topic and these two titles can be substituted for Donovan’s, well, I would direct your attention to the home-decorating books added every month to the existing pile of such books. The library adds books on certain topics all the time. At any rate, no, TPL does not have any books by gay authors valourizing manhood and masculinity – because Donovan has written most of them and Donovan has been banned.

    These claimed alternatives show that Collections Development runs the gamut of opinions on manhood from A to B, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.

I think I’ve addressed this issue pretty calmly

But let’s be real: This is a scandal. What could harshly be called a henhouse of liberal feminists who claim to uphold free-speech values wrote a secret briefing note to the Toronto Public Library Board hysterically decrying a male author who likes being a man and writes about manly virtues. And they imposed their beliefs on us.

Structural issues are at work here

All feminists, liberal or otherwise, will agree that male-dominated industries are a barrier to female participation and are at root an affront to equality. What is not discussed are female-dominated industries, except in the old context of pay equity. Toronto Public Library is a female-dominated institution. Its union says so. Management is female-dominated (more than twice as many female names [54] as male or ambiguous names [24]). The last two City Librarians were women.

Structural dynamics are at play, including biases much like those that male-dominated occupations are accused of having. If you believe white-shoe lawyers and engineers discriminate against women, why can’t you believe that a library system run by women will pull out all the stops to keep from buying pro-male books by a gay-male author? (They did that!)

Do you believe that all-women organizations could not possibly have biases and prejudices? Or, if they do have those, do you think we should recalibrate our expectations so that those biases and prejudices become the norm or the default? After all, men have dominated the human race for millennia; isn’t this just a little bit of payback? The world would be a better place if women were running it, would it not? And aren’t men just defective women?

It is exactly that thinking – even if subconscious – that led a department run and staffed by women to ban books by a man who likes men in more ways than one.

When I confronted CDD manager Susan Caron with this issue last week, she refused to reply.

Do you think any of this is remotely tolerable for a public library?

If so, which authors get disappeared next? Do you get to decide? Do only ladies get to? Is censorship censorship only when men do it?

Enjoy your Freedom to Read Week!

Even though, at the Toronto Public Library, it’s a sham.