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A Brilliant Experiment In Censorship

The topic of censorship always gets me worked up. We’ve talked about it a lot on 101 Books (here, here and here).

The idea of “banned” books does get a little overplayed. If your local library or school system “bans” a book, then all you have to do is order it from Amazon. It’s not like books get universally banned these days.

All that to say I love this social experiment.

Scott Dimarco is the director of a library at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania. Recently, in the Huffington Post, Dimarco explains how he and a few other librarians took part in a clever experiment with censorship. He explains how it got started:

The story begins with two staff members and one librarian who enthusiastically created and ran a week of interactive programs for banned book week. The turnout was tepid. A panel discussion on the subject drew six people. Five were librarians and staff members. The sixth was Dennis Miller, our public relations director, who recently published his second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance. As we talked about various books that are still being banned at different locations around the country, Miller said, “You should ban mine. It has sex, violence and adult language.”

He was joking, but his statement emphasized that as long as one book can be banned, any book is a target.

They agreed to participate, and “banned” Miller’s book during Banned Book Week. Miller is a popular author in the area, and his book had received good reviews.

Dimarco made the announcement–a brief, two-sentence statement–on the library’s Facebook wall. The reaction was immediate. Everyone from students to faculty to alumni were pissed. A newspaper contacted Miller within 20 minutes for his response. And my favorite tidbit that is so typical in today’s world:

A Facebook protest page was created within a day and people from around the country were voicing their angry thoughts.

Dimarco says only 8 people contacted him to meet and talk about why he had banned the book. Most of the responses were commenters saying how they felt betrayed, and Facebookers taking long-distance potshots behind the safety of social media.

The book remained banned for two days until they told the truth. Dimarco says the response was generally positive.

His conclusion:

A typical set of programs on the topic of censorship were met by our campus community with general apathy and pleasant indifference. Our unorthodox (okay, heretical) experiment was very successful in highlighting how a simple bureaucratic decision can curb our freedom to read.

In the library world, access to information is a human right, not to be tampered with, not to be controlled in any way.

Great work.

Isn’t it amazing how a group of four or five power-hungry people can make a subjective, ill-informed decision that has such a negative influence on a community?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. or positive one ?


    September 9, 2013
  2. It is, the fact that the actions of a few can spoil it for many always has me shaking my head. Though it seems like they received interesting results of their experiment. It’s not at all surprising that people come out of the woodwork both to support or attack and hiding behind social media seems to be a new way to communicate…


    September 9, 2013
  3. Read&Write #

    I recently wrote a mini-essay on my blog in response to a wordpress daily prompt. The question was, what luxury can you not live without? You can see it on my blog at It’s titled, “Are books a luxury?”


    September 9, 2013
  4. I found it more sad how people responded so vehemently without any real emotional attachment, perse. You said it right ‘behind the safety of social media.’ A real interesting experiment would be to go to those people and see if they’d stand by that in a difference circumstance.

    Social theories … they stress me out. 🙂


    September 9, 2013
  5. deweydecimalsbutler #

    We get parents at my high school that get so outraged over certain books and completely ignore other ones with much stronger images. One goes nuts over Harry Potter because it has witchcraft but ignores books like Jude the Obscure or The Stranger where the messages and/or scenes are much more potent. Whatever happened to simply telling your own kid not to read a book? Why take it from the shelves entirely?


    September 11, 2013
  6. Jamshaid78 #

    A complete detail of A Brilliant Experiment In Censorship contain this article. You said right it’s really great achievement for whole team who part of this experiment. It may help to give the new direction of our technology like 8b3nv1 have some good articles on the benefits and future of latest technology.


    January 9, 2017

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