For years, reports of censorship attempts came across Judith Krug's desk at a rate of three to five a week. Suddenly, beginning literally on election day, it is three to five reports a day.
"I could sense an increase in the pressures since last spiring," said the 40-year-old director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, "but it really took off last November. I don't know if it's a coincidence or if this is the wave of the future."
The targets aren't just the old regulars like Henry Miller and James Joyce. Now it's Ken Kesey, Aldous Huxley, J. D. Salinger, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" because it contains the words "Good God!" and Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Maddening Crowd," which a man threw on a bonfire of rock records last fall.
And it's not just in the small towns, either. There's an uproar in San Francisco over "Doctor Dolittle" and "Mary Poppins."
That's right. A librarian there said they were racist and sexist.
"This is the thing," said Krug, who is in town for the association's convention. "It's not just the antisex education people. All sorts of people are trying to keep out things that they don't approve, including feminists and anti-feminists, blacks, Jews, single-issue groups."
As a "bleeding-heart conservative who believes in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, a strict constructionist," the 13-year veteran of the struggle for the freedom to read says this:
"I will not buy the people who come to me and say, 'I'm not a censor, but this book is awful.' I will not buy the argument of a higher good. There is no higher good than the First Amendment."
She is seriously worried that for the first time in her memory the First Amendment may be in trouble.
"I hate to say it, but I'm not sure we could pass the First Amendment today in this country by referendum." She stirred in her seat. Her voice rose. It's getting to the point where being committed means being intolerant of any opposition. People are turning into zealots. Anyone who is willing to just listen to another view is seen as somehow suspect."
Censorship is a Band-Aid, she said. "Child pornography, using children's bodies for commercial purposes, is a terrible thing. But you're not ever going to eliminate child pornography by censoring the product. That just salves your conscience for you. But that child who was used -- that child has been destroyed. Taking the pictures off the market isn't the answer."
Krug has been married 17 years, has a son and a daughter.
One new feature of the rage for censorship is the attacks on public libraries, usually considered a far less vulnerable target, since they deal with adults and serve an entire community. Over the past two years, Krug said, 89 percent of the complaints related to schools. Now the balance is shifting, as people who don't have children in school, people who aren't even parents, get into the act.
In Houston, some parents tried to stop a sex-education film about a pregnant teen-ager. None of the parents had a child in the class where it was shown. It was just that they didn't want anybody's child to see the picture.
"How not seeing a movie is going to keep a girl from getting pregnant, I don't quite understand. Some parents think their kids can be kept from knowledge by not letting them see a book. Right now they're going after what's left of sex education in the schools -- come on, you can't have it both ways. If you don't want it in the schools, fine. But then you have to teach them at home."
She brought up the case of Mel and Norma Gabler, a Texas couple with no background in education who have made such a fuss over textbooks with "liberal bias" that their imprimatur is sought by publishers and school boards all over the country, and who want American students to learn only "traditional values and absolutes like right or wrong."
"These people were created by the media," she said. "It's made them celebrities, made them feared. What do they mean by traditional American values? Are they going back to before women got the vote? Back to the 1400s when the world was flat?"
The media, however, can also be an ally. The Office of Intellectual Freedom fights censorship mainly be enlisting community support, by appealing to what it sees as the good sense of the citizens as a whole. Every state has a library association, and every association has an intellectual freedom committee. Together, these groups help organize the besieged, explain what's happening, remind them of their heritage as Americans.
The danger in censorship, she feels, is that it metastasizes. In Abingdon, Va., a fundamentalist minister demanded that Sydney Sheldon's "Bloodline" and Harold Robbins' "Memories of Another Day" be removed from the Washington County Library. Then he demanded that all books by Sheldon and Robbins be removed. Now he is asking for a list of everyone who checked out the books.
"You have to fight," Judith Krug said. "You have to fight."