Central Dogma

4 March, 2006 at 11:00 pm (comics, library)

Lego Batman sculpture from NYCC.  Photo by No_Onions.Many, many, manymany people have written about the recent New York ComicCon. They were, mostly, people who were in attendance, and therefore had something interesting to say. I wasn’t, so I’ve waited for the furor to die down somewhat before I felt it was safe to comment upon something that I really don’t have much experience in. That and, well, I had already blogged this week, and I find it hard to break the habit of storing up entires for those long, cold stretches when one really doesn’t have much to add to the global commentary.

Publisher’s Weekly does a — shock! — weekly newsletter about the comic book scene, and they covered a conference of librarians at the NYCC to discuss the issues surrounding coded and overt depiction of sexuality in manga. Manga is hot in bookstores these days, and so it’s also hot in libraries. And because it’s hot. many publishers have jumped on the bandwagon and purchased the U.S. reprint rights to all sorts of speed-lined, zip-a-tone garbage that is well and truly thought of as ephemeral if not disposable in its country of origin. And librarians, despite the fact that they claim to be experts in evaluating sources and resources, are apparently all higglety-pigglety about being able to distinguish which manga is actually worth reading, and which manga might cause the average parent to transform into a short, stumpy, superdeformed caricature of steaming wrath.

TokyoPop's rating system for their manga albums.So, the article says, librarians would like ratings on manga. They acknowledge that some manga is rated already, but what they’d really prefer are the kind of ratings that the MPAA has been supplying recently — the kind where the reader is also provided with a laundry list of all the purile reasons why someone might want to go see this particular flick. (I’m being snide, of course, but mostly about the MPAA.) Certain librarians at this panel did feel like the ratings were insufficient in allowing them to anticipate content. And one interesting and accurate point was that even initial readings may not be an accurate gague of future content: “A manga series will start out clean and age-appropriate and later in the series will develop more mature themes.” Of course, due to the delay between domestic publication and U.S. publication, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see if a particular series has turned blue in Japan before volume one is printer over here.

But that’s not really the key point of why I bring up this whole sundry tale. Librarians aren’t supposed to want ratings. According to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” This has, in fact, been specifically interpreted to indicate that it would be unethical for a librarian to not stock or to deny the circulation of Rated-R films to youth. “Policies that set minimum age limits for access to any nonprint materials or information technology, with or without parental permission, abridge library use for minors.” Whoops. Guess you weren’t supposed to ask for that. No wonder the PW article described her as “hesitant”. BURN THE HERETIC! BUUUURRRNNN HEEEERRRRR!!!

Of course, the real reason why this pinged my radar is because I think that particular proscription of the Library Bill of Rights is the best self-defeating statement since “All generalizations are false”. If the ALA make a dogmatic statement of doctrine stating that libraries aren’t allowed to follow dogma or doctrine, then they are obligated not to select or proscribe materials based upon the Library Bill of Rights. Whoops, again.

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