Libraries Nix Dissed Christmas Displays

Libraries Nix Dissed Christmas Displays

In separate incidents, the holiday-spirit sensibilities of library patrons have trumped tradition at the Oberlin (Ohio) Public Library and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The first library heeded public comment by removing an edgy Santa art exhibit and the second by axing its years-long practice of displaying a Christmas tree in the lobby.

The Santa installation was pulled December 5 from Oberlin Public Library on the orders of Director Darren McDonough, two days after locally prominent conceptual artist Keith McGuckin installed it at McDonough’s request. Oberlin-area residents have seen McGuckin’s black humor exhibits throughout town in recent years, including the 2006 Nazi-themed “Secret Life of Gingerbread Men” and last year’s “Tis the Season for Murder,” which featured a 1950s film-noir-styled serial-killer snowwoman and her three hapless husbands.

This year, library patrons took offense at “Tenenbaum” (a deliberate misspelling of the German word tennenbaum), McGuckin’s portrayal of the titular Christmas tree malevolently poised to push a wheelchair-bound Santa down a flight of stairs as Santa asks, “Why, Tanenbaum, why?” An accompanying sign by McGuckin explains that Tanenbaum’s motive is to steal the money from his boss Santa’s Salvation Army kettle so the tree can party at a strip club.

“It was my decision to put it in, and it was my decision to take it down,” library Director Darren McDonough said in the December 5 Oberlin Chronicle-Telegram. Two days earlier, McDonough had told the newspaper, “Remember the old library saying—‘If we don’t have something to offend you, we’re not doing our job.’”

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the expressions of concern over several years by a dozen library staff and faculty members have culminated in a decision by Associate University Provost for Libraries Sarah Michalak to break the longstanding tradition of decorating the lobbies of the campus’s Wilson and Davis libraries with Christmas trees. Michalak, who joined the library staff in 2004, said in the December 5 Raleigh News and Observer, “We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas. It doesn’t seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs.”

“I don’t understand it,” student and UNC-CH College Republicans President Derek Belcher told the News and Observer. “We have Christmas as a federal holiday. If we’re going to remove the Christmas tree, do we have to remove that holiday?”

Belcher was not alone in voicing objections to the change in policy. After receiving some 40 e-mails of protest, University President Holden Thorp had his standardized e-mail response posted to a campus blog. Noting that “the university administration doesn’t get involved in decisions like that,” Thorp asserted, “Departments can choose to put up a tree or not. And if you take a walk across campus, I think you’ll see that.”

Posted on December 10, 2008. Discuss.