On KP Bath and separating the author from the work

July 12, 2010

KP Bath (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)

Last week children’s book author KP Bath was sentenced to six years in jail for possessing child pornography. This brings up questions of what librarians should do with his books if they’re held by the library. Should they be removed from the collection? Should they be booktalked and suggested? Should they be featured in displays? In South Carolina where the book won the 2007-2008 Junior Book Award, should the book be stricken from the award list?

Bath was originally arrested in April 2009. At the time I was taking both a seminar on intellectual freedom and Materials for Youth, and I brought up his arrest in both classes to gauge my fellow students’ reactions. While my seminar classmates were all vociferous in their defense of the book (but not the author), I was surprised by how many of my classmates in Materials for Youth would have removed the book from their libraries’ collections, even if they hadn’t read the books themselves. I think that were KP Bath an author for adults, even more cautious librarians would be less likely to pull his works; it’s providing his books to children, the very group he was exploiting, that concerns us.

At the time I hadn’t read any of KP Bath’s books, but by the end of the semester had read both THE SECRET OF CASTLE CANT and ESCAPE FROM CASTLE CANT, the first two books in a trilogy that will now probably never see completion. I thought they were mediocre fantasy novels that started with an interesting world but fell short in their narration style and details. But aside from a few notes about how insufferable adults are (which you’ll find in many books for older children and young adults), there was nothing in the books that seemed unusual or uncomfortable, much less exploitative. So, wearing my librarian hat and separating the author from his work, I concluded that it would violate the Freedom to Read Statement were we to remove the book from our library shelves.

But this also illustrated to me the occasional separation that occurs between my professional ethics and my personal ethics. While I’m not always great at it, it’s important to me to spend my consumer dollars wisely since it’s the only vote I get in the behavior of corporations and the business world in general. And I definitely don’t want to financially support someone who exploits children–especially someone so downright skeezy as Bath. He wrote in one of his chats, “I’m glad there are molesters out there,” and “I wish a 9 yr old was doing that to me. This from a man who’s writing books for 9-year-olds.” While he was enjoying (and trading) videos and images “depicting sadistic conduct, rape, sodomy and bestiality,” he was also volunteering at the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library in Portland. He was volunteering at the local children’s library. It chills my blood to read that sentence. Knowing what I know about Bath, there’s no way I could spend my money on his books, recommend (rather than suggest) his books to any children I know, or in any way not oppose him.

But those are my personal values. My professional values demand that I treat his books as I would have before his arrest and conviction. Normally I feel like my own values and my profession’s values are a good match, but I really struggle with this case. I know that as much as we want it to be or might claim it is, our collection development isn’t objective. I want social justice to be a part of librarianship. But intellectual freedom is at the core of librarianship and is the defense for some controversial things that happen in youth librarianship. If we start making compromises, how can we continue to defend controversial books being on our shelves? If we make exceptions and remove KP Bath’s books from our collections, then how do we retain the works of other felons or of anyone–atheists, gay people–whom someone in our library’s community might think immoral?

But can I really set aside my personal values in favor of my professional ones and be okay with myself? I certainly expect it of any librarians who personally think that (for example) people in the queer community are on the path to hell–I’d still expect them to collect books by LGBTQIA authors. Is the reason I think this is different because the law and a majority of people in our society agree that pedophilia is wrong whereas (in most states at least) homosexuality isn’t a crime?

I struggled with this conflict of values last spring and now that Bath has been sentenced, I’m thinking about it again. Professionally the right thing to do is to treat his books no differently, but personally, I’m torn. Intellectual freedom is important to me, but so is supporting good in the world and opposing evil. I feel okay keeping Bath’s books in a collection and with giving them to patrons who ask for them directly. But can I, with a clean conscience, add Bath’s books to a booklist? Can I booktalk them? I think I’ll probably do so–and feel good about it at work but feel guilty about it at home.

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5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Lino  |  July 12, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Can you give an example of books, or critera for books that you think it would be okay to remove from a library without violating the Freedom to Read statement?

  • 2. Anonymous  |  July 20, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    It’s a tough call, but I ask you, what if Stephen king had been arrested for his cocaine or alcohol habits. As a matter of fact he used them to soap box once he was in recovery. I live in Portland, and I know from many that Bath took the problem very very seriously. He relentlessly sought treatment for this horrible problem.

    How many celebrities have we heard about. They in fact face the same problems all of us do. The statistics show that someone that does what Bath did doesn’t generally harm children personally. And such perpetrators have a low recidivism rate. Most people do not understand the devastating nature of this kind of addiction. It is like a heroin addiction. But deeply psychological.

    But the nature of what he did is horrible. Because there are people that have made those images and children that have suffered.

    The question I would ask myself is how many authors that are still on the shelf did things that were horribly questionable.

    Al Gore has a book out, and recently faced accusations of Rape. Is his book still on the shelves? Martin Heidegger, highly respected in the philosophy field had strong ties with the Nazis for instance. Socrates was in fact, though the culture and time differed from ours, having intimacy with his interlocutors, most of which we young boys.

    If they weren’t children’s books then I would say no problem. But they are children’s books. If he had been found out he had a prior background and had books published I’d say become an advocate for dealing with the problem and keep going. Teach from the experience.

    But alas none of these are the case. For ethical reasons I would never promote the books to children or their parents. But I too am not so sure that any books should be stricken from the shelves. We have a world of people out there that do things.

    I am sure in time that the publishers may strike the books for everyone by letting them go out of print.

  • 3. Gretchen  |  July 28, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Lino: the Freedom to Read Statement isn’t really about weeding; it’s about not excluding materials for inappropriate reasons. Weeding focuses more on the physical condition of the book, how well it’s circulating, and what it uniquely adds to a collection. So tattered books or books that no one’s reading or using get weeded (the well-worn ones are usually replaced with newer copies), but books that offer a completely unique perspective or that are part of a core collection (“the classics”) are kept despite poor circulation.

    I think what you’re trying to say is that the Freedom to Read Statement might make it difficult to justify removing materials from the collection (or not adding them in the first place), but I think that’s only true if you’re trying to remove controversial or unpleasant books because they’re controversial or unpleasant.

    You might also be interested in this Library Journal article on self-censorship: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6632974.html

  • 4. Review: Escape from Castl&hellip  |  September 26, 2013 at 4:20 AM

    […] recommend a book written for children by a man who exploited children. The librarian who wrote this editorial explored this question. It isn’t a conclusive opinion, and it isn’t necessarily mine, […]

  • 5. Book Review: Escape from &hellip  |  October 17, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    […] recommend a book written for children by a man who exploited children. The librarian who wrote this editorial explored this question. It isn’t a conclusive opinion, and it isn’t necessarily mine, […]

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