When John Fox fired one of his red-baiting broadsides at the Boston Public Library, he raised the question of censorship. The Library's Board of Trustees thought it had an answer to Mr. Fox in its "no book-banning, no book-burning" resolution, but unfortunately, it has merely sidestepped the issue.
By a bare three to two majority, the Trustees disclaimed the right of library authorities to "exercise censorship that their individual or collective points of view shall prescribe what the public shall read and what shall be banned."
But, sitting on the tail of the "no censorship" clause is a paragraph stating the Library's intention "to take all legitimate precautions to make sure that the facilities of the Library shall not be abused for the planned infiltration of Communist propaganda." The second statement completely emasculates the first. It makes the Library's decision more than a merely ambiguous one, which so many newspapers have labelled it. It makes the decision thoroughly feeble.
What, for example, does the Library mean by "legitimate precautions?"
To get certain books, states Lee M. Friedman, chairman of the library's board, you must convince the librarian that you will use them "properly." Such a set-up would give the librarian the absolute powers of a censor.
A decision--unhampered by restrictive clauses--in favor of "no book-banning" would prevent this. It would make Communist literature accessible to anyone who requests it. Nevertheless, Mr. Friedman stoutly maintains, "We don't propose to be a source of supply for Communist propaganda." Perhaps he should be reminded that when Dr. Luther Harris Evans, Librarian of Congress, earnestly praised the Trustees' decision, he also remarked, "I cannot tell Communist propaganda when I see it."
Mr. Friedman admits there is only a single argument between the prevailing and the defeated groups: the majority wanted to include a statement of principle. Both resolutions advise the director of the Library to "effect arrangements designed to prevent abuse or misuse of any Communist propaganda material in our possession"; both agree to take "legitimate precautions."
As long as all pro-Red literature is not available to any person requesting it, the majority principle is a hollow one. Watered-down and bound by conditions, it is identical with the minority stand, and the question of censorship is no closer to solution.