Book censorship from a library P.O.V

Does any one person have the right to impose a personal set of values on the rest of society? Ex-library employee Sharon Cook thinks so and stands by her morals, even though her actions also got another woman fired. The offending book happened to be a graphic novel in the The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.

She was, she says, simply appalled that a child could find a book that contained so many outright visually obscene graphics in the Jessamine library where she worked. So nine months ago, she challenged its right to be included in the collection, and when that failed, she simply checked it out herself.

She’d renew and renew and renew the thing, putting sticky notes in, marking the most offensive pages. But one day she couldn’t renew it again because there was a hold on the item. Cook checked the patron records to see who wanted it and discovered an eleven year old girl behind the request. She told other co-workers about this, and one of them deleted the girl’s hold so the girl wouldn’t get the thing, nor would her parents ever see it. Next day, both women were fired.

What followed has become a battle of principles that is larger than the women ever imagined.

It has become a question of what public libraries are enshrined to do, what role they are to play in monitoring children and whether they get to decide what people get to read.

What complicates this is that the graphic novel in question meets no standard of obscenity by the law.

While it does contain many images of varied and explicit sexual behavior, it has been the subject of academic study. It was named by Time Magazine as one of its Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007 and called “genius,” applauded for its ability to “pluck out the strange and angry and contradictory bits that underlie so much of the culture we live and think with today.”

Saskatoon Public Library has always permitted kids to borrow anything they want with their cards, the only restrictions being movies labeled 14A, 18A or R. Graphic novels have a similar rating for teen and adult level, but we’ve never stopped a kid from taking out one aimed at grown ups. It’s not the library’s role to police what children want to read. The library’s role is to provide a wide variety of materials to the city, province and country for that matter. Any and all subjects from boring car manuals to explicit sex how-to’s, the library has the option to buy any and all. Moreover, our library looks at it as having a duty to the public to provide whatever they might require, even if we think it’s stupid or junk.

Bottom line, we ultimately leave it up to the parents to decide what’s age appropriate. If they don’t take an interest in keeping their kids from reading trash, who are we to judge? And if a parent later comes in to complain about a book, we’ll let him or her write out all the challenge information but the complaint will likely be dismissed anyway. We will not cater to a particular and restrictive moral/value judgement. Books should be available for everyone, whether they want The Secret, Scientology shlock, trashy sex-filled fiction or the Bible (which might also be considered trashy sex-filled fiction by some people).

On Oct. 21, at its first meeting after the firings, the library board of directors found they needed a policy for public comment. Fifty people showed up unannounced to tell the library what they thought on the board’s recent personnel actions.

Also on hand were Cook and Boisvert, who had prepared a power-point presentation of their case. It wasn’t, they say, about keeping their jobs. It was about the fact that they had thought the book they found on the shelves of the library had originally been a mistake.

And the shock, they say, was that it wasn’t. (The book had been bought originally because a patron had requested it.)

I suspect it was a patron who requested The Book of Genesis Illustrated at ours. I was quite amused to see the thing on a cart waiting to be worked on. We will, of course, be shelving that with adult graphics.

They were most upset to not get to do their powerpoint presentation on “conservative community values” and “I’ll know it when I see it” value judgements on obscenity. Director Critchfield wrote an open letter to the Jessamine Journal:

“As customers of a public library there is a First Amendment expectation to respect the rights of all persons — what one person might view as questionable might be quite important and relevant to another.”

Right. One person’s value judgement cannot be the rating by which all books are judged. The books are for everyone. If you don’t like what’s in that one, don’t read it. Don’t let your kids read it (no doubt they’ll find a way, though). Nobody has the right to take away the right for everyone else to read it.

Cook says she consulted with a manager at the library at almost every step in her decision-making process about the graphic novel. She says when it first came to her attention, “someone suggested we spill a cup of tea on it. Instead I checked it out.”

She then went through the proper procedure of challenging the book, something any patron can do. That required a committee, including Cook, to read the book.

“People prayed over me while I was reading it because I did not want those images in my head,” she says.

Sorry, the prayer thing just makes me laugh. Why not just shout “White elephants!” in her ear while she reads? It’d work as well. She had to read with her eyes open anyway and a graphic novel already has the images.

The book was off the shelf for months while the committee reviewed it.

Cook says she found the book back on the shelves before she received a letter denying her request to have the book removed. She says she again told management she would check out the book indefinitely. She says she was not warned that this was a firing offense.

Then came Sept. 21.

Cook says that she never wanted the book taken off the shelves so adults couldn’t see it.

“I’m an adult. I do not want you telling me what I can read,” she says adamantly when you ask.

She just didn’t want this book in the Graphic Novel section, which is located next to Young Adult Fiction. She didn’t want it adjacent to what she calls “exaggerated comic books,” like the X-Men series, and real comic books, like Spider-Man, which are so enticing to children.

Maybe the library’s bigger beef with her is the fact that she encouraged another employee to break a rule and cancel a hold on September 21st without a valid reason and likely never told the parents of the child, either. They arbitrarily denied a patron the right to borrow material. They should not have been poking around the records of anyone, child or otherwise, to find out who was next on the list. It was none of their damned business.

If her complaint really is about where it’s shelved, then she should have taken it up with the Young Adult librarian and stated her concerns properly, not kept the book so not even adults can borrow it. If she only wanted YA and Adult graphics separated better, why not go that route instead? If she wanted it shelved with adult material, take it up with the adult collections librarian.

If she has no plans to give the book back, she should just pay for the damned thing and keep it. The library will likely buy a replacement copy anyway so her effort here is essentially wasted.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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