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Seuss books pulled from library over theft concerns

T-R photo by Trevor Babcock — A Dr. Seuss display currently greets Marshalltown Public Library visitors to the children’s section, as part of a celebration of Dr. Suess’ birthday on March 2.

Six Dr. Seuss books have been discontinued, and the same six books are no longer available to check out at Marshalltown Public Library.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the organization managing the work of Dr. Seuss, announced on Tuesday the books “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool” and more would no longer be published due to racist and insensitive imagery.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises reads.

The same day as the announcement, someone placed those six Dr. Seuss books on hold at Marshalltown Public Library, but was denied checkout after the library became aware of the controversy.

The discontinued Dr. Seuss books were selling for thousands of dollars on eBay before eBay delisted them, so Marshalltown Public Library pulled the books from their shelves to prevent theft.

After being denied checkout, the library alternatively offered the person to read the books at the library, but instead the person made an offer to purchase the books and was denied.

Youth Services Director at Marshalltown Public Library Joa LaVille said libraries across Iowa are dealing with rampant theft of the discontinued books, as people check the books out but do not have the intention of returning them.

“Right now we’re just protecting the books while we look at the issue,” LaVille said.

The books may or may not remain in the children’s section, but LaVille said historic value is not a priority when curating the children’s section. She said they will most likely be available for reading elsewhere in-house in the future, but may not be available for checkout.

LaVille said the library takes decisions regarding intellectual property and censorship very seriously, and in the more than 20 years she has worked at the library, not a single book has been pulled based on a challenge.

Despite what happens with the six books LaVille said the library will continue to carry the rest of the Dr. Seuss catalog, have Dr. Seuss storytime and celebrate his work. A Dr. Seuss display currently surrounds the front desk of the children’s section in honor of his birthday last Tuesday.

“This is not a war on Dr. Seuss, that’s just silly,” LaVille said. “This is not saying Dr. Suess is bad, this is not saying his books are under attack in general.”

She said some of the content in the discontinued books is harmful and demeaning such as the depiction of a Chinese man in “And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street” being a stereotypical caricature with lines for eyes, wearing a pointed hat, carrying a bowl of rice and being a member of a circus.

“I think if Dr. Seuss knew that the image was hurting children’s feelings, I have faith that he himself would have made a different choice,” LaVille said. “I think the reason Dr. Seuss Enterprises made that choice is because they want to be true to the legacy of Dr. Seuss.”

She said it’s not uncommon for books to be pulled or reprinted with changes by publishers due to insensitive content, with the Dr. Seuss situation being a special case with public attention.

“A lot of classics have been reissued to update or address an awareness that people have the opportunity to know,” LaVille said. “The problem is we as a culture weren’t really listening to every member of our culture like we are trying to do a better job of now.”

Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.

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