“Gaining Access”

I have spent some time lately thinking about the various ways politicians have been attacking access to books, information, and school curriculum. In the next few posts I will write about them beginning with the access I had to information, books and curriculum growing up.

I was born in 1947, began public school in 1953 and continued to be taught in public schools through my high school graduation in 1965. My experiences during that time were probably typical for a middle class American kid in a medium sized, fairly racially homogeneous(white) city. I welcome comments from any readers whose experiences either echoed mine or were very different.

My access to books came from my school library, the public library and my parents’ collection. The school library had carefully screened books. Even though we had the World Book encyclopedia, when I asked a teacher what its statistics on “venereal disease” meant, she told me it was a disease people gave to each other.

The public library segregated children’s’ books to a special room. To go into the adult section I needed a note from my mother, and even then I had to be twelve. The children’s librarians were fierce defenders of what they considered “literature.” No Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys or Oz books graced their shelves. Those books were definitely not “real” books.

Unbeknownst to me, even on a national level there were books my parents couldn’t add to their collections. Although they were to free to buy Nancy Drew and Oz books for us, they were unable to buy Henry Miller and others for themselves. The sexuality was considered “too extreme.”

I was ignorant about a great deal of life. Tomorrow I discuss how television continued to keep me that way.

18 thoughts on ““Gaining Access”

  1. That’s how it was. The saddest story about children’s literature is the children’s librarian at the New York City Library. She ruled with an almighty hand, refusing to have “Goodnight Moon” on the bookshelf. When the library published their poll of the most popular books, those that had been checked out the most, they added a post script saying if “Goodnight Moon” had been on the shelf back in her day, the book would have been #1.


  2. I remember in the UK in the late sixties and seventies (my years as a trainee librarian) there was a ‘top shelf’ in the library workroom for books considered too racy for the shelves, although adult borrowers could reserve them. (Borrowers were ‘borrowers’… not ‘customers’, nor even ‘readers’.


  3. My experience was sililar to yours, though although we had a ‘Children’s Section’ in the library, we were also allowed to borrow ‘adult’ books. There was a lot of censorship in Britain at the time, usually for sexual content. The most famous case in my youth was the publication of ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’. I was only 8 at the time, but read about it in the Sunday newspapers.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  4. I was born about 7 years after you. I never gave much thought to what books were or were not available. In the summer we depended on the Bookmobile since we waived in a rural community. We simply absorbed whatever books were available.

    My mother’s family were avid readers. My grandmother had books in bookcases with glass doors. They read any and everything. My cousin had the entire set of Nancy Drew books and we all borrowed them from time to time. I still have one or two from her collection.


  5. If books were censored in my town, I was totally unaware. It did bother me that the books we had to read for our literature classes were so dry and boring that they could destroy anyone’s love of reading. (And we’re pure hell for those who struggled with reading)


  6. Wow, growing up in Jamaica, I had none of these restrictions. I have always had access to books of all kinds. Reading that you couldn’t have Nancy Drew at the library blows my mind! There were also several books with sexual content that I was allowed to access from as early as 12 and we learned what venereal diseases were from as early as 3rd grade.


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