Wednesday, August 18, 2010

School Media Specialist Passes Sexual Content Review to Students; Dee Venuto Says It Is Discrimination to Keep Children From Material Including Lengthy, Vivid Descriptions of a Ménage a Trois

Dee Venuto is the "School Librarian; Media Specialist Assoc." at a public high school in New Jersey earning $85,541/year.  [N1]  As the librarian/media specialist, she is trained to, "'select resources unfettered by our personal, political, social, or religious views.'"  [N2]  She has chosen not to do this, however, because she "just can't read" certain books, preferring instead to allow school children to review potentially inappropriate material, such as one involving "lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois." [N3]  She makes these remarkable comments in a New Jersey Education Association publication.


Dee Venuto Admits Not Performing Work For Which She Was Hired

Dee Venuto delegates her primary responsibility of selecting media to high school students.  Then, claiming "discrimination," she evidences she would rather not remove any materials whatsoever, effectively nullifying the need for a media specialist to "select resources" at all.  No need to "offer guidance and support services."  Here are her own words, emphasis mine:

Dee Venuto, RVRHS Media Specialist
Indeed there are librarians who censor—I have always struggled with the conflict of providing students with what they want to read, view, and hear, and the fact that I have always worked in public schools, which are, in my opinion, pretty conservative institutions.   Interestingly in my 18 years of experience, they’ve become even more so.  In the beginning of my career I inter-library loaned the Anarchist’s Cookbook for a high school student—not so sure I would do that today.  After a discussion I had at the fall [SJRLC] membership meeting, I will most likely put Eric Jerome Dickey back on the shelves, but would be wary of buying a book by Zane.  Dickey came off the shelves, by the way, because of a discussion I had with one of our student media assistants who often reads urban lit and who I depend on for openly discussing the books that I just can’t readShe shared some of the sexually explicit parts with me, which were lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois.  Professionally, I truly believe it is discriminating to keep materials from young people who want to read, but do not always have access to the public library or the purchase of books.  I’d love to buy everything the students want; I’m toying with the idea of a parent permission form/phone call or inter-library loaning books for students who want titles that are mature.  [N3]

Dee Venuto, the media specialist who admits her role is to "select resources," actually does not.  She admits she "just can't read" certain books, and that is in the sense of content, not in the sense of a large number of books, since in the same sentence she talks about "openly discussing" "urban lit."  She has students read and report to her on books she just can't read including one involving "lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois."  She claims it is "discriminating" to keep such material from children.  She would "love to buy everything the students want."


Dee Venuto and the American Library Association

Dee Venuto spoke publicly at an ALA annual meeting about how my SafeLibraries blog is changing her library profession.  In doing so she remarked that I "seek to educate people and politicians about who controls the public library and that citizens should, not the ALA." [N4]  However, as soon as she figured out something was afoot at her school, she sidestepped her own administration and went straight to the ALA. [N5]  The ALA then contacted all 50 state library associations to encourage them to get involved. [N6]


The ALA's Misleading Letter to RVRHS

Angela Maycock, ALA OIF
As a result of Venuto's call for help, the ALA issued a misleading letter to the school district, author pictured at right. [N7]  It is misleading, for example, to say, "The U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned that, 'local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.' Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)."  The ALA did not reveal that the case also revealed that pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable material may be removed from a public school library at any time.

Equally misleading is this from the ALA letter: "This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has 'a special role...as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics.' Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F.3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995)."  The court did not rule that sexually inappropriate material is considered a "diverse topic" that a student should explore in a public school.


Most Misleading is the Failure to Disclose that Books May Be Removed Legally

Judith Krug as "Hysteric" Librarian
Perhaps most misleading under the circumstances, is what the ALA left out.  The ALA did not reveal that the ALA's former 40 year de facto leader said, "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library.  In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials.  If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there." [N8]

Dee Venuto spoke publicly and approvingly of a number of Judith Krug quotes that support her view [N5], but, like the ALA itself, left out the essential one directly on point that dooms the view that anything goes.

The picture above right is of Judith Krug wearing a button saying, "Another 'Hysteric' Librarian for Freedom."  If even an "hysteric librarian for freedom" who was the ALA's de facto leader for four decades says, "get it out of there" if material does not "fit your material selection policy," then schools have a green light to remove material that does not fit their selection policies.  That crystal truth is the very reason for the misinformation campaign and legal threats (usually by the ACLU) intended to intimidate local communities into not even trying to do the right thing or reversing themselves when they do.  Also, attempts to claim selection policies are so inclusive as to exclude nothing do not ring true with Judith Krug saying what she did.


ALA Misleads on Dee Venuto

More on point regarding Dee Venuto, the ALA misleads the school again.  Specifically, the ALA said, "We extend our full support to Media Center Coordinator Dee Venuto, who has worked to select a diverse range of materials for the collection without shying away from potentially controversial subjects."  The ALA said this on March 3, 2010.  But is was a month before that, on February 1, 2010, that Dee Venuto admitted she "just can't read" certain material and has students read and report to her on things such as "lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois." [N3]

In other words, by Dee Venuto's own words, it is factually impossible that Dee Venuto "worked to select a diverse range of materials for the collection without shying away from potentially controversial subjects," as the ALA claimed.  Just the opposite.  She "just c[ould]n't read" certain material and had students read such material and report to her.  In other words, she "sh[ied] away from potentially controversial subject."


Conclusion

Given the above, it appears that a public school media specialist admits to and explains why she is not performing her work she states is her job.  It appears she intentionally exposes school children to potentially inappropriate material.  It appears she holds the ALA to be a higher authority than her own school district and is guided by the ALA, including by its view that it is discrimination to keep children from inappropriate material, a policy that may violate local policy and common sense.  It also appears she and the ALA have misled the public, including failing to disclose that school library materials may be removed if they do not meet the school's selection policy.

That's my view.  What's yours?


End Notes

NOTE ADDED 22 APRIL 2011:

For Dee Venuto's efforts in going directly to the ALA instead of her own management to seek external help for local book challenges, she has been awarded by the ALA, apparently to set an example that others should go directly to the ALA as well.  I commented as such on the page announcing the award.  That led to many of her friends commenting in response and supporting what she did.

One Lynn Harpool even called those who challenged some books "terrorists."  I'm not kidding.  See "School Librarian Stands Against Organized Challenge, Receives AASL Intellectual Freedom Award," by Jennifer Habley, American Libraries, 19 April 2011, wherein Lynn Harpool commented:
I am appalled by the actions of the Rancocas Valley School Board in bowing to the wishes of this organized, outside, terroristic (yes, I consider them to be a form of terrorist) group in pulling the books.  Although two out of the three titles were re-instated, the fact that the third title was not restored does not clear them in my mind.  I intend to further educate other alumni of RVRHS at our upcoming reunion about this incident and hopefully they too will join me in expressing our dismay at the cowardly actions of our former school which, until this action, we held in high regard.  Rancocas Valley Regional High School failed in this matter but we can be proud that they have Dee Venuto on their staff (hopefully they won’t retaliate against her). 
Lynn Harpool
RVRHS alumnus and NJ Librarian

Librarian Lynn Harpool's Facebook comment
supporting MoveOn.org's anticapitalism.
I note Lynn Harpool is a "supervising librarian" at The Free Public Library of Monroe Township in Williamstown, NJ.  I am wondering if that community approves of one of its employees publicly calling people terrorists, let alone calling the school board members cowards.

The library, by the way, has the ALA's anything-goes policy, and the bold emphasis and capital letters are in the original:
6.  Parents - NOT LIBRARY STAFF - are responsible for what their children check out from the Library and for what they access on the Internet.

I also note from the Lynn Harpool Facebook wall that she positively promoted the anticapitalist work of MoveOn.org.  The graphic above shows the approving comment she wrote.  I find it ironic that she decries corporations "shirking their tax-paying duty" while her library shirks its tax-paying duty to protect children from harm and she shirks her own duty to refrain from using inflammatory/defamatory language.

So an anticapitalist-supporting, anything-goes librarian who calls people terrorists and cowards supports another anything-goes librarian who admits she does not perform her duties and who complains immediately to the ALA.  Any surprise here?

By the way, the National Coalition Against Censorship [NCAC] also handed Dee Venuto an award "for fighting against censorship."  See "NCAC Honors Myracle, School Librarian as Defenders of Free Speech," by Rocco Staino, School Library Journal, 14 December 2010.  No surprise there as the NCAC promotes porn, just like Dee Venuto.

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8 comments:

  1. As a parent, I would be extremely concerned if my child was sharing “some of the sexually explicit parts” [of a book] “which were lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois.” with her teacher.

    I would be very concerned about the appropriateness of the relationship and interaction between my child and the teacher.

    I would be more worried about this than the books on the shelves.

    Concerned Parent

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  2. It appears she intentionally exposes school children to potentially inappropriate material.

    This is the sentence I have the most trouble with. It "appears" she exposes children to "potentially" inappropriate material. Nicely made statement, without actually accusing her of anything. Way to cover your *ss.

    I guess when I simply take my kids to B&N, which sells Playboy magazine, I am intentionally exposing them to potentially inappropriate material, too. Arrest me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Concerned Parent (Anonymous).

    Thanks, Maria, long time no hear. The difference is when you take your kids to the store, you are not asking them to read Playboy because you can't, it is not your job to read it, and you are not passing off your job to children. Besides, they are your children.

    That said, it would sadden the ALA that you would not allow your children to read Playboy. After all, the same Judith Krug I mentioned in the body of the blog post said:

    "Parents who would tell their children not to read Playboy 'don't really care about their kids growing up and learning to think and explore.'"

    What about ménage a trois should your children think and explore in a public school setting that promises to "offer guidance and support services"?

    ReplyDelete
  4. The sentence I quoted doesn't address the idea of her having students read the material because she doesn't like it, or doing part of her job for her. If she really is relying solely on students' recommendations to decide what books to purchase for the school library, I would agree that that is the wrong way to operate. But I would imagine that she is using student input in addition to other resources, such as book reviews from reliable sources (Book Review Digest, etc.)

    You can't blame a library or a librarian for having a book or collection of books you don't like or approve of. It is the library user's right to decide what material they want to read. And saying it "appears" she "intentionally" exposes children to "potentially" inappropriate material.....? How do you know what her intentions are? How do you know that it is inappropriate for someone, potentially or not? Do you truly believe that library users don't have the right to decide what to read? Do you truly believe that only adults have this right?

    Your choice of words makes it clear that you are willing to make veiled accusations ("appears", "potentially") without actually standing behind them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Maria, your comments here and in my past blog posts are consistently of the "attack the messenger" kind. Further, your having received $1000 from the ALA no longer makes your efforts to distract from the issues credible.

    I may soon publish a blog post about you and your sub-rosa $1000 grant from the ALA. I'll bet very few are aware of this ALA influence that you have denied. Each time you comment here to attack the messenger or distract from the issues I will respond merely by linking to the blog post showing you to be an ALA paid agent. In the rare instance you actually address substantive issues without directing people's attention to the messenger, then I may respond substantively.

    Do not feign innocence/ignorance. I did not point out your personal attack in your first comment on this post: "Nicely made statement, without actually accusing her of anything. Way to cover your *ss." I tried to be polite, and I was.

    Your response was to include further personal attack: "Your choice of words makes it clear that you are willing to make veiled accusations ('appears', 'potentially') without actually standing behind them."

    So two comments, two personal attacks. Most of your past comments involved personal attack as well. Now that I know you have received a $1000 pay-off from the ALA, you are no longer credible and I will no longer tolerate your personal attacks and efforts to distract from the issues.

    Do not confuse my not responding substantively with acquiescence with what little substantive argument that may accompany your attacks and misdirection.

    Thanks again for writing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. OK, Dan, if you can't actually address the questions in my previous comment, which most certainly address the issues discussed in your blog post, I'll leave it alone. And who do you think I am distracting when we are the only two people actively commenting on this post? I think it is amusing that when someone questions you about your word choices, you scream "personal attack."

    You already know more about the $1000 grant to West Bend Parents for Free Speech, and how the only "payoff" received via the grant was the reimbursement of about $180 for an Open Records Request made by another member of WBPFFS. But feel free to call me an "ALA paid agent." I'll know I've really hit the big time with my reckless idea that parents should be the ones who decide what books are appropriate for their own kids if I warrant my own blog article on the Safe Libraries blog!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Maria let me try to answer your obvious non-question to the sentence, "It appears she intentionally exposes school children to potentially inappropriate material."

    What Dan means is that Dee Venuto , in her own words says ..." Dickey came off the shelves, by the way, because of a discussion I had with one of our student media assistants who often reads urban lit and who I depend on for openly discussing the books that I just can’t read. She shared some of the sexually explicit parts with me, which were lengthy, vivid descriptions of a ménage a trois."

    Now I do not know your reading level so let me interpret above for you. Ms Venuto had a high school student read a book "she just can't read". Then Ms Venuto had her report on and discussed the livid juicy details of sexually explicit parts involving a menage a trois. OK, now from the dictionary...menage a trois - a sexual relationship involving three people (general meaning here is all three at the same time)

    To sum up again...listen carefully...Dee Venuto said in her own words that she INTENTIONALLY had a HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT read a book and then she INTENTIONALLY had a detailed conversation with a HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT about the EXPLICITLY SEXUAL descriptions IN THE BOOK of THREE PEOPLE HAVING SEXUAL RELATIONS.

    Now what part of the answer to your non-question is in doubt? Don't get mixed up Maria...there is no way this is about a trip to Barnes and Noble with your kids...you know it, Dee knows it and everybody reading this blog knows it...no matter how hard you try to spin it!

    Dan I commend you on your patience in answering Maria!

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  8. If Dan would provide a link to the complete article on which Venuto is quoted, that would be wonderful. Meanwhile, I'll share my interpretation of the quote, because it differs from yours, Anonymous.

    Venuto says she "depends on" a student media assistant to openly discuss books she personally cannot read. She did not say that she assigns the student the task of reading the books, just that she gets input/discussion from the student. The passage indicates the student shared some of the passages with her, but does not indicate how they were shared. Did the student read them to her? Did the student flip to the passages and hand over the book? Did the student mark the pages with a Post It and have Venuto read them at a later time? We don't know, because beyond the fact that the information was "shared," we aren't privy to the details. The quote certainly doesn't, try as Anonymous might like, say that Venuto had the student "report on and discuss(ed) the livid juicy details of sexually explicit parts involving a menage a trois.

    I'm the one putting a spin on this? Your interpretation of her quote is just a guess, as is mine. Without the context of the full article, which may provide more details, I don't know how anyone can come to the conclusion that this educator is "intentionally exposing school children to potentionally inappropriate material." For crying out loud, she says she took the Dickey book/books off the shelf because of a discussion she had with the student media assistant! So are you saying she intentionally exposed the student media assistant to explicit material, just to remove the book from the shelves to protect the general student population from it?

    ReplyDelete

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