Nudity in the library

Catchy title, eh?

*The following post (and my blog in general) is my personal opinion, should not in any way be construed as an expression of or commentary on the policies and positions of my employer.*

At our library, we have monthly displays from local artists.  They have ranged from abstracts to watercolor still lifes to Chinese landscapes to portraits.  This month we have a beautiful collection of portraits by a prominent local painter and teacher.  They are absolutely gorgeous – the man is supremely talented.  Most of the paintings are straightforward head and shoulders portraits of young women.  One portrait is of a bare breasted woman.  It is not in any way sexual, nor is it the first nude that has been included in an exhibition at our library.

Today a patron took issue with that image.  He took the time out of his day to approach the desk and complain that it was inappropriate, since the library is a family place and there are children around.

The complaint was noted, with courtesy and respect toward the man’s point of view, and he was given the appropriate information to allow him to express his opinion to management.

I dislike complaints of this sort for a number of reasons.  First of all, I always get the feeling that people fall back on the “think of the children” argument because something or other makes them vaguely uncomfortable and they need to bolster their bluster.  I also strongly disagree with the notion that seeing a bare breast is going to disturb or somehow sully a child.  Children breastfeed; do we flip a switch when they stop that makes them unable to comprehend that it’s a body part like an elbow or a nose?  It’s one thing to teach children about privacy, but we often go too far and make them feel like certain parts of them are shameful mysteries.  Further, I dislike the implication that the world should be dumbed down to a child’s level.  Like it or not, this is not a child’s world, and the least we can do is offer them realistic information about it.

In the end though, the fact is that everything offends someone.  My being offended by this man’s indignation accomplishes nothing.  I just become fearful every time someone like this succeeds in limiting the experience of others.  No one’s mind is big enough to be right about all the stuff in this world, so we’ve got to trust each other to build up the whole of human experience.  That means coexisting with things we’re not sure about, so live and let live.

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