Library Board failed to uphold its pledged purpose

On Wednesday, December 21st, the Clark County Public Library Board of Trustees met in reg­u­lar ses­sion and, after hear­ing com­ments from over two dozen mem­bers of the pub­lic, and a lengthy dis­cus­sion, vot­ed four to one to restrict access to one book in the library selections.

Book cover: Gender Queer

The book, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, had been under dis­cus­sion fol­low­ing the board’s November meet­ing. The book received the Alex Prize, award­ed by the American Library Association to ten books per year that have spe­cial inter­est to young adults, ages 12 to 18. It also received pos­i­tive reviews from pres­ti­gious sources such as the San Francisco Book Review, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

The book had been locat­ed in the Adult sec­tion of the library collection. 

The issue cen­tered on “restrict­ing” access to the book, by some process that had not yet been determined.

Censorship is like a for­est fire.  It begins with a sin­gle ember, and if it is not extin­guished at the out­set, it becomes a rag­ing con­fla­gra­tion that con­sumes every­thing in its path.

It should be not­ed that this became an issue not because of wide­spread out­rage on the part of the pub­lic, but because some mem­ber of the board had either seen the book or been alert­ed to it and then chose to pur­sue action on it, deem­ing it inap­pro­pri­ate for chil­dren, even up to the age of eigh­teen, and the final motion was to that effect.

The board’s legal coun­sel, Dodd Dixon, not­ed that any restric­tion motion should be accom­pa­nied by some rea­son for the restric­tion. Therefore, inclu­sion of a descrip­tion of the work as “sex­u­al­ly explic­it” was added to the motion.

Following a com­ment from a board mem­ber that this action affect­ed “only one book,” it was quick­ly point­ed out by the library direc­tor that it was not like­ly to always be so, as any action to restrict a book would almost inevitably lead to fur­ther sim­i­lar actions.

Another board mem­ber sug­gest­ed that the library staff could com­pile a list of books in the selec­tions that might deserve some restric­tive action.  This sug­ges­tion was almost imme­di­ate­ly reject­ed because of the huge amount of staff and time that would be need­ed to pur­sue such a pro­pos­al — and that it would place the staff in the unten­able posi­tion of being cen­sors, a role, inci­den­tal­ly, which the board has already assumed by its action to place restric­tions on one book.

The American Library Association (ALA) Library Bill of Rights includes the following:

  1. Books and oth­er library resources should be pro­vid­ed for the inter­est, infor­ma­tion, and enlight­en­ment of all peo­ple [empha­sis in orig­i­nal] of the com­mu­ni­ty the library serves.  Materials should not be exclud­ed because of the ori­gin, back­ground, or views of those con­tribut­ing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should pro­vide mate­ri­als and infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ing all points of view [empha­sis in orig­i­nal] on cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal issues.  Materials should not be pro­scribed [empha­sis added] or removed because of par­ti­san or doc­tri­nal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should chal­lenge cen­sor­ship [empha­sis in orig­i­nal] in the ful­fill­ment of their respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­vide infor­ma­tion and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should coöper­ate with all per­sons and groups con­cerned with resist­ing abridg­ment of free expres­sion and free access to ideas [empha­sis in original].

The Kentucky Public Library Trustee Manual, Chapter 5 – Special Topics goes into exten­sive detail regard­ing the role of pub­lic libraries in pro­mot­ing intel­lec­tu­al free­dom. It states: “The library board has the respon­si­bil­i­ty [empha­sis added] of cham­pi­oning the cause of intel­lec­tu­al free­dom, includ­ing fight­ing all cen­sor­ship efforts.”

Though the mem­bers of the board who were intent on restrict­ing access to this book took pains to char­ac­ter­ize their actions as some­thing oth­er than cen­sor­ship, there should be no doubt that cen­sor­ship is exact­ly what tran­spired by this action to place a spe­cial restric­tion on this book.

Censorship is like a for­est fire.  It begins with a sin­gle ember, and if it is not extin­guished at the out­set, it becomes a rag­ing con­fla­gra­tion that con­sumes every­thing in its path.  History illus­trates that most effec­tive­ly, from China’s Qin Dynasty to the destruc­tion of the Aztec codices to Savonarola to the Nazis — and every type of book has been sub­ject to cen­sor­ship at one time or anoth­er, includ­ing the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah.

All library board mem­bers are required to sign a year­ly form indi­cat­ing that they under­stand and agree to fol­low the pro­vi­sions of the Clark County Public Library gov­er­nance poli­cies. If any mem­ber of the library board fails to uphold anti-cen­sor­ship efforts, per­haps that per­son should con­sid­er whether they are qual­i­fied to remain on the board. 

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