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New York and Denver public libraries aren't removing Dr. Seuss books over racist imagery

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Posted at 9:19 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 11:19:44-05

After it was announced this week that six Dr. Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, some public libraries across the United States, including those in New York and Denver, have said they will keep the children's books on their shelves.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that protects and preserves the legacy of the author, announced the news on Tuesday, March 2 – the late author and illustrator's birthday. The company will stop publishing, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," "If I Ran the Zoo," "McElligot's Pool," "On Beyond Zebra!," "Scrambled Eggs Super!," and "The Cat's Quizzer," Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The company said the decision was made last year following months of discussion.

Some book carriers, however, say their copies aren't going anywhere.

Many major public libraries follow the American Library Association's (ALA) Freedom to Read principles. The association's guidance is that libraries should provide a wide range of views, including expressions that are "unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority."

In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for the Denver Public Library (DPL) said it follows the ALA Freedom to Read principles, including that "it is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author."

Other principles followed by DPL include: "publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available," and that it is the responsibility of librarians and publishers "to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression."

The Denver library, as of Thursday, did not plan to pull any Dr. Seuss books from its collection, the spokesperson said.

"Libraries across the country are having conversations around how to balance our core values of intellectual freedom, with the harmful stereotypes depicted in many children's classics," the statement continued. "We will continue to purchase and promote diverse collections, while finding ways to help parents read and discuss books with their children with a critical eye as part of our efforts to challenge inequity."

The New York Public Library (NYPL) will also keep its Dr. Seuss books on shelves, a spokesperson for the library system said in a statement to CBS News.

"As public libraries do not censor material, the very few copies we have of the 6 Dr. Seuss titles in question will remain in circulation until they are no longer in acceptable condition," the spokesperson said. "At that point, we will not be able to replace them, as the books are out of print. So eventually they will no longer be available to borrow."

"In the meantime, librarians, who care deeply about serving their communities and ensuring accurate and diverse representation in our collections — especially children's books — will certainly strongly consider this information when planning storytimes, displays, and recommendations," the spokesperson continued.

Other public libraries are still assessing some books in Dr. Seuss' catalogue. A spokesperson for the DC Public Library said in a statement to CBS News its collection is "maintained through constant evaluation by library staff to ensure its usefulness and relevance to the community."

The library removes materials when they are "no longer timely, accurate or relevant," the statement said.

In regards to the Dr. Seuss books, the spokesperson said it "will conduct an internal review of the titles and consult with peer libraries and library associations to determine the appropriate course of action."

CBS News has reached out to ALA and other public library systems across the country.

While the six titles gained widespread attention this week, some other books by Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, have also been criticized in the past, including "The Cat in the Hat," which will still be published for now, the AP reports.

In a study published in 2019 in the journal "Research on Diversity in Youth Literature," researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens wrote there is a "complete invisibility and absence of women and girls of color across Seuss' entire children's book collection."

"In addition, some of Dr. Seuss' most iconic books feature animal or non-human characters that transmit Orientalist, anti-Black, and White supremacist messaging through allegories and symbolism. These books include The Cat in the Hat; The Cat in the Hat Comes Back; The Sneetches; and Horton Hears a Who!," the researchers continue.

As for the six books that will no longer be published, many debated the decision to cease publication, with some on social media calling it a wrongful "cancellation."

"So today my daughter is dressing up as #DrSeuss for 'Dress Up Like Your Favorite Book Character Day' for school. Now he's being cancelled for being racist? These people will stop at nothing. Can't wait to share her pic to trigger a few idiots," tweeted Kimberly Klacik, a former congressional Republican nominee in Maryland.

"Now 6 Dr. Seuss books are cancelled too? When history looks back at this time it will be held up as an example of a depraved sociopolitical purge driven by hysteria and lunacy," tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) had a different opinion: "Do ordinary Americans care about the 6 relatively unknown Dr. Seuss books that the publisher is no longer going to publish? No," he tweeted. "That's why Dems are focused on stimulus checks."

"And since one of the Dr. Seuss books made fun of my ethnicity, I'm glad the free market cancelled it," Lieu continued.

Angus Johnston, a historian and professor, wrote on Twitter that the "Dr. Seuss situation is pretty banal."

"Some of his early, relatively obscure stuff is indisputably racist. His later, culturally beloved work remains immensely popular and is in no danger of being 'cancelled.' The end," he wrote.