Tuesday, October 23, 2018

To Add Or Not To Add, That Is The Question

Note: I started to write this post shortly after the events described below happened. I fully intended to publish it shortly thereafter, but I ended up taking a right at Albuquerque and things went a little askew. I still think this is an important issue, so I'm still publishing it.

I finally gave in and admitted to myself that I was never going to play the copy of Cards Against Humanity that I'd purchased a long while back. Since I'd never even opened it, I decided to bring it in and donate it to the library where I work. We have a small game collection that I'm planning to grow, so why not? Right? I brought it in and handed it off so the game could start along the windy path all items follow in my library to be added to the collection. Then, a couple of days later, this copy of CAH came back to me because someone who works for me - rightly - had reservations about adding it to the collection. I'll admit I felt a little defensive. Like most people, I don't like to have my mistakes pointed out, but since I didn't want to make a decision from that initial reaction, I took it back and said I'd think about it.

Then I turned to Twitter. And to friends. I turned to WorldCat to see who else owned it. I thought about it overnight. I'll explain how I made my decision in the following paragraphs, but let me cut to the chase first: we are not adding it to my current library's collection.

How I arrived at that decision was somewhat circuitous, but in the end the biggest factor with whether or not to add something to a collection should always come down to context. Here are most of, if not all, of the arguments I saw and/or had:
  • The whole point of CAH is to be offensive. To make you cringe, and then laugh at your own discomfort. I don't enjoy that kind of humor, personally, but I don't want to get in the way of people who do.
  • Context is so important with offensive materials. For instance, libraries stock Mein Kampf so we can learn from history (although, considering the fact that we have Nazis in this country again, it didn't work).
  • We don't yet have a collection development policy for our board game collection, so how can I really include or disallow anything? (We obviously need to write one.)
  • Some might try to call this game satire of a sort, but satire needs to punch up and this game does a lot of punching down. Disrespecting and making fun of disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups is not satire - it's cruelty.
  • Board games have more power than other objectionable things to do immediate harm. All I could think about was students checking this game out of the library and playing it in the student union, and having a transgender student or a disabled student walk by and overhear. Reading a horrible book only impacts the person reading it.
  • I know this isn't censorship. My library has printers, and CAH is open source, so students can still play. We don't have rules about what people can and can't print, so I am not blocking their access to it.

I know how other libraries handle this game. I specifically sought out other librarians who handle games collections to ask their opinion. So that copy of CAH ended up in the recycling.

cards against humanity in a recycling bin

Please note that I reserve the right to delete comments on this post or close comments all together. I know I've opened myself to claims of censorship, despite the last point in the bullet list above. I used to be a free speech purist, but I know better now. Words can do harm.


  1. Kudos to you for putting so much consideration into the decision. I think any claims of censorship in this case are pretty cheap.

  2. I was asked to play with some folk I know, and in a small group in a house it wasnt bad but I didnt think it was great and I wouldnt have it in my library, for many of the reasons you have put but for one more, young folk these days accept any printed thing as 'fact' and while most would enjoy or not a few may feel it justified poor behaviour! sad but true. words hurt attitudes need opening not fixing. well done.