Books banned by libraries after just one complaint about 'racist' content (2024)

Books by authors such as Raymond Briggs, David McKee, and Jules Verne have been removed from public libraries following just one customer complaint, it has been reported.

Over a dozen books have been taken off the library shelves across the UK after members of the public raised concerns about their content or because librarians deemed the books to be offensive, reports The Times.

It includes Briggs’s Fungus the Bogeyman, McKee’s Three Monsters, Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X-Men and Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift series.

Libraries also received dozens more complaints asking them to remove certain content in a wave of “book challenges” that one expert called just the “tip of the iceberg” of increasingly widespread censorship.

Louise Cooke, emeritus professor of information and knowledge management at Loughborough University, stated that censorship in the UK is more covert compared to the US, where the American Library Association has been documenting efforts to ban books for years.

She told The Times: “I think that the main difference is that it’s much more covert in the UK than in America.

“In America it’s a huge public issue and sometimes you even wonder if it is actually happening a lot more in the US or whether there is just a lot more awareness of it.”

The growing tendency to remove anything that could potentially offend an individual is “massively dangerous”, Cooke added.

The Times sent freedom of information requests to 204 councils responsible for public libraries. Of those 163 responded, 17 did not hold the required information and 24 did not respond.

The analysis revealed that across the country at least 16 books were removed from library shelves in 11 councils following a single objection from a customer, parent or librarian. In Hertfordshire a customer complained about the use of the racial slur “g******g” in Briggs’s children’s book Fungus the Bogeyman (1977).

The story depicts a day in the life of a working-class Bogeyman whose job is to scare humans, referred to as Drycleaners. The narrative humorously suggests that Bogeymen relish things that humans find disgusting.

One illustration features a puppet resembling a traditional " g******g," but with pink skin and yellow hair.

The annotation reads: “Boggiewogs: The Bogey G******g. These are a caricature of pink Drycleaners. They always have huge blue eyes, rosebud mouths and curly blond hair.”

Internal correspondence shows library staff received a verbal complaint from a parent who came across the section when reading to their child.

The email reads in part: “I must admit I was rather shocked that the word was still being printed in an edition of the book from 2012, as a lot of those 'classic' books from the 1970s have had such offensive words removed in later editions, now that we know better.”

Jules Verne’s "Five Weeks in a Balloon," written in 1863, was removed by Coventry Library Services following a complaint from a customer regarding its “inappropriate and racist” language.

This novel, the first in the French author’s Extraordinary Voyages series, narrates a 4,000-mile journey across Africa.

An internal email reads: “[The customer] found it used racist terms/language and felt it particularly important to raise it as it was placed at [redacted] Library (multi-ethnic population). I have the book on my desk at present. [The customer] says it refers to ‘beastly n******s’ and other such terms.”

While not all English translations of the book appear to include this phrase, most refer to people living in Africa as “savage beasts” and “savage tribes”. In Essex a library removed Three Monsters (2005) from its shelves after a customer complained about its “divisive language”.

The correspondence reads in part: “[The customer] was very concerned and appalled by the language [in] this book at a time when we are encouraging children to be inclusive and diverse and it doesn’t send the right message to children. The particular section was: ‘Clear off’, shouted the second monster. ‘We don’t want any funny foreigner types here’.”

The story tells of an “alien” monster who arrives at an idyll by the sea where he is treated deplorably by two other monsters who force him to do land clearing.

Andersen Press, the publisher, describes the story: “Once he has done it, the horrible pair do tell him to go, and then watch in amazement as he dances back to his boat. The clever stranger has built himself his own personal little island with the earth and plants they told him to clear away.”

McKee was recognised for addressing serious subjects with humour, and the underlying message of his Elmer books was to celebrate diversity. The majority of libraries adhere to national guidelines set forth by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), which stipulates that books should not be censored unless their content is deemed unlawful.

Jo Cornish, its interim chief executive, said: “Our general view as a profession is that it’s better for the reader to have access to material, not proscribed by law, than it be banned. As we make clear in our guidance, we are committed to opposing censorship unless there is a specific risk that providing access to a particular book would break the law or incite hatred or violence.”

Of the 16 books removed from public libraries, eight were due to complaints regarding racist or divisive” language, three for “inappropriate” sexual or violent content, three for concerns about potentially damaging health advice and two for outdated information, The Times stated.

All copies of the Marvel superhero comic book The Uncanny X-Men: The Trial of Magneto by Chris Claremont were removed from public libraries in Edinburgh City because one parent made a complaint about the “use of the n-word” on one page.

Books banned by libraries after just one complaint about 'racist' content (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Catherine Tremblay

Last Updated:

Views: 5907

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Catherine Tremblay

Birthday: 1999-09-23

Address: Suite 461 73643 Sherril Loaf, Dickinsonland, AZ 47941-2379

Phone: +2678139151039

Job: International Administration Supervisor

Hobby: Dowsing, Snowboarding, Rowing, Beekeeping, Calligraphy, Shooting, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Catherine Tremblay, I am a precious, perfect, tasty, enthusiastic, inexpensive, vast, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.