Friday, January 10, 2014

Case Study No. 1165: Ruth Cox Clark

Ruth's aha moment
I was a school district level librarian when the principal tried to remove the young adult novel, Forever by Judy Blume, from the high school library shelves. Ethically I could not let that happen. However, during the process of defending the book's place in the collection, I was offered a scholarship to complete my PhD in Library Science. I hated to leave my colleagues behind to continue the fight without me, but I knew that as a university professor I would have a wider impact as a intellectual freedom advocate. My decision to teach courses in Library Science, focusing on young adult literature, which is often challenged, proved to be the right decision. A few years later I was introducing young adult novels at a school librarians' conference and I looked up from my books to see a full audience. They were all there to hear about books, like Judy Blume's Forever. Books written for teens.

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Added: 2 years ago
From: myahamoment
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["Ruth, Lexington Kentucky" appears on screen]
RUTH: [in voice over] My name is Ruth, and this is my "aha" moment.
[cut to a female librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: My "aha" moment happened at one of the most difficult times in my professional life. I was a school librarian, when the high school principal decided to remove Judy Blume's "Forever" from the high school library.
[she shakes her head]
RUTH: Ethically, I had no choice but to stand up against this censorship attempt. First, because the book is age appropriate, was still being read by the teens, and had been in that particular library for close to twenty years.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: In the middle of all this, I got a phone call, and I was offered a full scholarship to complete my PhD in library science.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: I didn't feel like I could walk away from the fight. I felt like I would be leaving my colleagues in the lurch, but they reminded me that as a professor, I was going to have an impact not on just hundreds of future school librarians, but on thousands in my career ... So I did. I completed my PhD, but because of the challenge to Judy Blume's "Forever," I decided that my focus was going to be on young adult literature.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: My reaffirming "aha" moment happened when I was presenting at a conference for school librarians. I was busy putting my books in order, not paying any attention. I looked up, there wasn't an empty seat in the room.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: All to listen to me talk about young adult literature ... I smiled, because I knew not only had I found my career, but I'd found my vocation.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: It felt like ... everything clicked.
[cut to another shot of the librarian speaking directly to the camera]
RUTH: Realizing that they wanted to hear about the books that I loved made all the difference in the world. I started a blog, and I'm still writing that blog. I've now written three books for adults on how to share young adult literature with teens.
[she smiles, as the scene fades to black]



True Life: Surviving the Censorship of Judy Blume's Forever
Story as told to Megan Elizabeth Gill by Ruth Clark, PhD - July 13, 2010

Ruth Clark knew at eight years old that she wanted to be a librarian. She was an early and avid reader having read most of what was in her tiny K-12 school library by the fifth grade. As Ruth got older, she worked in her school's library during study hall. When the time came to go to college, Ruth received an undergraduate degree in Library Science in addition to her elementary education credentials. Because there was not much Ruth could do with an undergraduate degree in Library Science, she pursued her Master's Degree at the University of Hawaii. While a professor mentioned thinking about getting her PhD, Ruth decided to wait and see what life had in store.

In her time as a librarian, Ruth has worked as a school librarian, a district librarian, and now a professor for library science students at the university level. As a district librarian in Wisconsin, Ruth had her hands in elementary, middle, and high school library decisions. When the state gave her money to build a better collection at a Wisconsin high school, Ruth began weeding (deciding to keep, throw out, or reorder books) old, tattered materials.

During the weeding process, Ruth came across a copy of Forever by Judy Blume. Not only was this copy one with the original cover, but it was also very worn and falling apart. Ruth decided to order a new copy of the book because it was still checked out all the time. This new copy would have a locket on the front instead of the brass bed like the original.

One day during the weeding process, a high school student came into the library with a book recommendation from her English teacher. Forever had been recommended for her to read and so Ruth gave her the worn out copy with the brass bed on the cover because the new one had not arrived yet. The girl took the book out of the library and when she was holding it later on, the principal saw her and asked where she had gotten that book. She explained she picked it up at the library and he seemed disgusted and said she shouldn't be reading it in front of people.

The principal came to Ruth and demanded the book be removed from her shelves. She explained to him that there was a process for removing books and it involved paperwork, but she was happy to get that information for him. He had a list of other books too and demanded those be removed as well. When Ruth insisted that he was not allowed by law to pull the books but he did it anyways, Ruth made an appointment to see the superintendent.

Over the next few days and weeks, the very conservative principal continued to gather support from community members against the books and Ruth by doing things like reading specific passages from Forever aloud at the basketball games. Despite having not originally purchased the book for her library, Ruth knew that she was responsible for it and must fight to defend her students' right to read whatever they wanted. Ruth began receiving phone call threats from angry community members and her children were even being threatened at their school in a neighboring county.

Finally a school board meeting was called to discuss the matter with the entire community. Because of the level of threats and anger in the community, Ruth was advised to hire an attorney who came to the meeting with her. Supportive teachers also attended the meeting, although Ruth found that most of them kept quiet because they had lived in this town for years and had no intentions of creating any problems. Luckily, a few of Ruth's students didn't see things this way and one even stood up and began to quote passages from the Bible that had similar language to the "inappropriate language" that was being debated in Judy Blume's book.

After the meeting, a committee of community members was formed to make a decision regarding the book. This was a closed session meeting (which is not allowed) and the decision was made that the book would be withdrawn. While this decision was eventually ruled illegal by the attorney general, Ruth had to decide if she still wanted to fight this battle or not. After talking with the student that originally check out Forever, Ruth made the decision to stop this particular fight and instead go get her PhD. She decided with her PhD she could make a difference in the lives of many library students who would then be able to fight against censorship. Three weeks after Ruth resigned, Forever was placed on the "restricted" shelf by the new librarian who began to tell parents "not to worry anymore because the bad influence was gone."

The entire situation hurt many people. Ruth and her family were threatened, gossiped about, and made to feel completely alone. The young girl that originally checked out the book was embarrassed, tired of fighting, and did not want to testify anymore (which is the reason Ruth stopped fighting). Community members were forced to pick sides and students didn't know where they could go to find the books they wanted to read.

In 2002, Ruth received the AASL SIRS Intellectual Freedom Award for refusing to censor Judy Blume's book. She says that if she had to do it all again she'd make the same decision, but she would try to remain more private about the details in hopes that less people would be involved and hurt. Her advice to future librarians is to get involved with your state level school support because you'll need their support for challenges.



One of my favorites, One Special Night, with Julie Andrews and James Garner is on right now. Speaking of Julie Andrews, there were a lot of unhappy people who didn't get in to her speech at ALA. I didn't even try. But, I did go to listen to Judy Blume, who was very emotional as she spoke to the very people who love and protect her books in our collections. I have a soft spot in my heart for her because of the censorship of her Forever back in the early 90s that I dealt with in the Rib Lake SD, a small rural district in N Central Wisconsin, not so far from Wausau. I can't help but wonder if there are any copies of Forever left on the restricted shelf the school board created after I left the district. What the three administrators who went after the book didn't realize is that they shot themselves in the foot. Due to the exposure they gave to the book, including the Principal of the HS where the book had been in the collection since the 70s reading excerpts aloud at the basketball game to selective parents, bookstores were sold out and there were waiting lists at the libraries. The inflammation of the conservative parents in the school district got the relatively new to the district principal the exposure he wanted, but it also made Forever the most talked about book in the state of Wisconsin for many months. But, then again, censors are rarely logical in their thinking!


Dr. Ruth Cox Clark, Young Adult and Children's Literature professor (contact info: clarkr [at], booktalker, and author of Tantalizing Tidbits for Teens (2002), Tantalizing Tidbits for Teens 2 (2007), and Tantalizing Tidbits for Middle Schoolers (2005), discusses books, audiobooks, and movies for young adults (teens) and children, along with anything else that piques her interest - often her daughter, grandkids, husband and their travels (especially to islands), and cat Sophie.



Ruth Binoniemi
Retired Youth Literature Professional
Green Bay, Wisconsin (Green Bay, Wisconsin Area) | Higher Education

I am a retired Library Science educator who specialized in youth literature teaching, research, and editing. Prior to leaving academia I taught graduate level Children's and Young adult literature courses, presented at national, regional and state library/youth literature related conferences, authored 3 books on booktalking YA titles as well as reviewed youth materials for a number of professional journals.

Ruth Binoniemi's Experience
East Carolina University

Ruth Binoniemi's Education
Texas Woman's University
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Library Science

University of Hawaii at Manoa
Master of Library & Information Science (MLIS), Library and Information Science



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