In his reply to the Advocate's charge of a paternalistic censorship by the Widener authorities, it is startling to find Mr. Lane, the librarian, calmly admitting the present censorship and arguing the right, even duty, of his assistants to decide what is and what is not fit pabulum for student minds. "There are", says Mr. Lane, "filthy books, salacious books, books corrupting in influence, which it is no part of the Library's duty to distribute to readers." Thus he lays claim to the right of censorship, to the right to deck Boccaccio and Ellis with fig leaves.
This attitude might be permissible were he referring to public libraries in general. But Widener library is not a public library. It is the private library of Harvard University used by a select group of fairly mature students possessed of good breeding and good sense. These men need no "great-grandmotherly" supervision of their morals and the attempt to infringe their independence of thought is an insult to their character.
But even granting the Widener authorities to be acting within their rights, the unfortunate effect of a successful censorship is to defeat its own purpose. Information withheld with the nursing of lips seems invariably to attain an unjustified rapacity of circulation. Filth which is innocuous on the printed page becomes effective through being spread by word of mouth. The excitement aroused by censorship creates a volume of curiosity far greater than the salacious matter would of itself admit. The very effectiveness of censorship destroys its intended effect.
The ultimate question is of granting the college student a maximum of intellectual freedom. The undergraduate is well-poised: he will not be unbalanced by reading about a few doubtful subjects always in common talk. And openness of approach to written knowledge of esoteric subjects will go far to dissipate the halo of naughtiness which clings about the prurient taboo.