January 24, 2013

Sweater Vest Sunday


The ALA’s poster for Sweater Vest Sunday

The sweater vest does not get a particularly good rap. But the American Library Association is reclaiming this oft-scorned piece of apparel for a noble cause, and they’ve proclaimed January 27th “Sweater Vest Sunday,” a day on which, by wearing a sweater vest, you’re showing your support for the reporting of challenges to library material — challenges being those times when patrons object to certain books being available in their libraries and make a stink about it, usually by demanding that the books be taken out of the collection or sequestered somewhere in the library where impressionable kids can’t get at them (as happened to Slaughterhouse Five earlier this year in Missouri — see this MobyLives post).

The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has recently stepped up their efforts to encourage people to report these challenges; they track and study them, and use the records to compile an annual list of “most frequently challenged books.” So, on Sunday, by wearing a sweater vest and taking a photo of yourself, you will not just be a dude taking a photo of herself or himself in a sweater vest and feeling a little awkward about it, but warm, so it’s ok. You’ll be supporting freedom of information and access to it.

The Annoyed Librarian of the eponymously named blog finds the whole thing a bit tenuous, and argues that numbers of book challenges aren’t a good indicator of a climate of intellectual freedom:

Just because some yokel doesn’t like books with gay penguins doesn’t mean we don’t have the freedom to read. Even library directors who remove books from a library because they’re yucky doesn’t affect that freedom. The books are out there and we can read them. Take that, North Korea!

Add up all the book challenges out there and what do you have? A drop in the ocean compared to the books available to the public, even the challenged books. I guess I should be happy they didn’t say “wear a sweater vest to fight censorship! (and fashion!)”

Encouraging the reporting of book challenges is a very incomplete and unsatisfying way to promote the freedom to read, which might make the sweater vest appropriate since sweater vests are incomplete sweaters for people who just can’t commit to the full wool. That’s what I’m calling a real sweater now, the full wool.

I sympathize with the Annoyed Librarian’s critical rigor and full sweater allegiances, but I have to admit, I do have a sneaking fondness for the vision of a Sweater Vest army out there, watching, waiting for someone to work themselves up into a furor over My Two Moms, and then pouncing! pouncing with their clipboards!



Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.