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It’s about Privacy, Not Porn

I’m a little late in coming to this story about two library workers being fired for stupidity. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been so dazzled by other examples of stupidity in librarianship that it slipped past me.

You’re probably all kept up on your library news and this is stale stuff, but the story involves two women working for a public library in Kentucky who were supposedly trying to keep porn from children. One of the former library workers decided she wants to protect Kentucky’s children from graphic novels. Considering the stuff children can probably see on the Internet at her library, maybe she should be more concerned with that problem. But then again, maybe she doesn’t know about that Internet thing yet.

She challenged the book (maybe the ALA got to add another tick mark to their list!), but the challenge didn’t work, so she tried another strategy. According to the article:

"It all started in the fall of 2008, and she is still doing it. The proof is in her knapsack, in a bright yellow flexible file folder, hidden from prying eyes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Black Dossier. It has pink and yellow highlighter tags sticking out, marking the pages that contain explicit sexual content.

It is the Jessamine County Public Library’s copy, which she has checked out and not returned. She is being fined 10 cents a day for her breach of library contract — and for her moral stand."

A clever strategy, no doubt, just keeping the book checked out indefinitely. The library couldn’t possibly order another copy of this book, so she has effectively removed it from prying children’s eyes. Or is that the reason? I have to wonder about her confessed motivation.

She carries it with her all the time, and has all the naughty bits highlighted. That sounds a little suspicious to me. Maybe she also checks out the old Harold Robbins novels and underlines the good bits for later consideration when the lights are low and the music soft. When we consider that "highlighter tags" are acidic and bad for paper, maybe she should be prosecuted for damaging library property as well.

This is the creepier part, though.

"She checked it out over and over and over with her library card until a patron of the library, unaware of the circumstances of the book, put a hold on it, asking to be the next in line to check it out.

When Cook went to renew The Black Dossier on Sept. 21, the computer would not allow it because of the hold. Cook used her employee privileges to find out that the patron desiring the book was an 11-year-old girl.

This would not do.

On Sept. 22, Cook told two of her colleagues at the library about her dilemma, and Beth Boisvert made a decision. She would take the book off hold, thus disallowing the child — or the child’s parents — ever to see the book."

So the library board fired them. The news article frames the debate as one of access to information versus censorship by librarians.

"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."

The opening tries to frame this as a battle over protecting children:

"Sharon Cook is either a hero or a villain.

She is either due your thanks for doing everything in her power to protect children from obscenity or she is due your disdain for wantonly taking away the constitutional rights of the people of Jessamine County."

Do we really need to go that far, though? Sure, these two meddlesome women are similar to the powerless rubes the ALA tries to make us so afraid of. Sure, they’re trying to keep people from reading this book. There are even some who would claim they’re taking away people’s "constitutional rights," though I can’t remember the part of the Constitution that says people can read any damn book they please at the public library.

However, the issue is much simpler than that. They disregarded the confidentiality of a library record and tampered with circulation requests. Keeping preteens from viewing bukkake on public library computers is one thing, but invading confidentiality is another. Sometimes the ALA likes to collapse those distinctions, but we don’t need to, and apparently neither did the library.

Some of the commenters to that news article go on about religion being evil and other knee-jerk responses. But one commenter cut through that:

"Both women say they remain baffled as to the reasoning behind their dismissal.
… According to the Employee Manual, grounds for dismissal can include insubordination, theft or misuse of the Jessamine library’s property, breach of confidentiality information and any other violation of library policy."

All of the rest of the brouhaha is totally unnecessary. This doesn’t have to be an issue of library workers deciding what people get to read, but one of library workers flagrantly violating the rules of their own employee manual and the state library association bill of rights.

Unlike some states, Kentucky itself doesn’t have a library record confidentiality law (though they also don’t have a law that considers this graphic novel pornography, which knocks down the library worker’s "fear" of felony conviction), but there is a document interpreting the confidentiality of library records. (A list of state positions is here.)

Despite the ALA’s position that all materials should be available to people of all ages, most people regard this as nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with keeping pornography from children. If any library disagrees, they’re free to take my Library Porn Challenge by subscribing to Hustler Magazine and displaying it in the children’s section. If any library does that, they’d have the full support of the ALA behind them, so why not take the challenge?

But this isn’t about protecting children from porn. This is about keeping records confidential. It’s not even about keeping records of terrorists confidential, but those of innocent people.

It’s a pity these women were so zealous in their busibodiness and so neglectful of basic procedure. Instead of taking a stand to protect children from pornography in libraries – as just about every adult besides librarians wants – they just look ridiculous, and confuse an intelligent principled stand with clumsy meddling.

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Comments

  1. Moorefan says:

    So if The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen contains images the library deems inappropriate for children (this is absurd but I’ll let it slide) why not just classify it as fiction?

  2. J O says:

    Just wait until those two find out about LOST GIRLS (lol)…

  3. Alibrarian says:

    Addressing the item in question and not the privacy issue.
    I am a graphic novel loving librarian who enjoys edgy and erotic themes and is opposed to censorship but I have read Black Dossier and there are parts that are not suitable for an 11 year old. It includes the further adventures of Fanny Hill and some very graphic illustrations.

    It should have been handled quietly and locally but instead has become widely publicized and a new cause for the wingnuts. LISnews reports on more fall out on the story:
    “Director Critchfield can not talk about the firings, but he did say he was surprised Tuesday to receive a petition saying The Black Dossier and 3 other books represent a threat to public safety.

    The petition reads in part, “This community is known to have sexual predators, and works such as these encourage those predators to act out their desires or at the very least justify their desires.”

  4. h3dn5 says:

    Good question Moorefan. I wondered the same thing. Why not just move it to a more adult area of the library.

  5. Issues says:

    Good call on the one thing that matters here – library employees going through a patron’s account and changing it. Good grief.

    More importantly, though – could you change whatever the publishing glitch is that causing the blog to switch into a different font at random every other paragraph? It is very distracting.

  6. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    Having read all of League… It’s not vastly, wildly inappropriate for young adults. It’s not like handing a kid a Playboy. Is it appropriate for an 11 year old? Maybe not. But I’d have taken it up with the director, and possibly the child’s parents, just to make them “aware” of the content in the book. I may have also tried to get the book reshelved as an adult book. The article goes on to say that the library worker read the book with people from her congregation praying over her so those images wouldn’t get stuck in her mind. It’s not THAT graphic, and it does actually pertain to the story. It sounds to me like her own moral and religious sensibilities took over here. Which in its own misguided way is noble (even though there were other ways to solve what she perceived to be a problem), but I wish she’d call a spade a spade and just say she’s acting on what she perceives to be her own moral/religious obligations. I HAVE talked to parents about graphic novels before. I did caution a parent that she may want to read Batman: Arkham Asylum before giving it to her 7 year old, and reminded her that the graphic novel section was in the Young Adult area for a reason. This woman is not only imposing her own morals on the library, but also taking away parents’ right and duty to parent their own kids. Just about every library I’ve encountered leaves parents responsible for what their children check out, not the library and not a few workers at the library that aren’t even librarians.

  7. me says:

    h3dn5: The book was never in the Childrens Libray in the first place. It is in the Graphic Novel section, in the main part of the library. But yes, I think they were wrong to violate a customer’s privacy that way, and the continuing battle is overkill. I live nearby, and used to work there. Most people really don’t care, the media just seems to think it’s a big deal.

  8. Techserving you says:

    I enjoy reading graphic novels and other erotica in my large corner office with huge windows. I do it on my lunch break and then catch up with my Ivy League buddies on facebook for a bit. Then I throw the books at hourly workers who are walking by my huge, mahogony door and scream, “shelve this you idiot minion.”

  9. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

    Maybe I’ve had too many friends open their deeply buried, traumatic life events to me, or spent too many years working in mental health care before the library world, BUT since a lot of people I know were sexually molested or raped before they were 11 years old, isn’t this another case of closing the barn door after the whole friggin’ herd got out?

    “Protect the children!” The repetitive refrain of those taking away my rights to violence and porn.

  10. Spekkio says:

    Well, y’know, if it’s in plain text, it’s probably cool. The minute it’s illustrated, it’s a horrible sin. Also, if a book is illustrated, that automatically means it can’t possibly be an adult book. /sarcasm

    And let’s be perfectly clear. Alan Moore’s work is art. See “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta.” (the books, not the movies – though I liked the latter movie a lot, and the former well enough) And Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” is absolutely brilliant superhero writing and art at its absolute best.

    The killer thing is this – public librarians are not expected to act in loco parentis. It’s entirely possible that the 11-year-old girl is entirely mature enough to handle the material.

  11. Unemployed Librarian says:

    Ooo! Two job openings!

  12. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    @Techserving you: ahh yes. Another day in the life :)

  13. Printer Spool Delete says:

    “public librarians are not expected to act in loco parentis.”

    They are perfectly loco on their own.

  14. another f-ing librarian says:

    AL you are right. Tampering with records is corrupt.

    And. If *any* total stranger *ever* tried to prevent *my* kid from reading *anything*, I’d take them apart. That’s *my* job and none of their d@mn business.

  15. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    @another f-ing librarian: agreed. Some inappropriate literature can actually provide a valuable place to start discussing a topic. Heck, Grand Theft Auto can provide an opportunity to talk about the way some media can glorify violence and illegal behavior (or even ‘hey, it’s wrong to steal stuff and wreck cars!). But a PARENT gets to make the decision whether they want to have that conversation with their kid, or tell their kid no, but you can check that out when you’re older. It’s NOT the library’s decision that a parent cannot have a teaching moment with their kids about a topic. I’m not fond of the idea that since we don’t want to advocate an idea or a behavior, that idea or behavior should just never be discussed. Ever. Like if we ignore sex or drugs with pre-teens, they’ll stay away from it, because having a conversation about the dangers of both might somehow “excite” them into bad behavior. They’re JUST books. They JUST contain ideas. Ideas can’t hurt you. It’s entirely possible to look at an idea, discuss its merrits and disadvantages, and decide no, no, I don’t think vampires should be having sex with zombies, and here’s why (that doesn’t happen in ‘League…’ I’m just giving an extreme example).

  16. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Unemployed Librarian – would you really want to work in an environment that fostered the actions of these two women? Unless one of them was the director I’d be willing to bet my bun that such shenanigans continue.

  17. texasmls says:

    You never go into someone’s record and cancel a hold or add a hold for that matter. Although I have been tempted to put certain books on manners on hold for certain patrons I would never do it. Yikes. Anyway, a smart librarian would let someone check out an objectionable book, have the parent lodge a complaint and let the library board decide on whether or not to move or remove the item. Any idiot knows you let the patron challenge the item not hoard it in your backpack.

  18. Post postmodern Librarian says:

    What I get from this is that library director seems to be ill informed about his staff actions. The acquisitions person didnt check this GN for issues and makes a decision to pull it before it hit the shelf. Since the director was surprised there were issues with the book(s) I bet no one bother to tell him what was going on. This is a classic case of a communication breakdown leading to bad decision making on the part of staff. Or the director has no standards at all.

  19. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    And what about the library board that refused to allow about 50 people to speak at a board meeting because the speech was not on the agenda! Isn’t that a problem too? Didn’t the library board fire the employees over free speech issues then deny the free speech of those with an opposing opinion?

  20. Rake says:

    I think I was watching porn around age 12 or 13. I think I was sexually active a couple years later. I wonder if I hadn’t been exposed to any graphic material if I would have been pristine until marriage (how much would this have impacted my life? I don’t actually care – I think I’m fine). I wonder if this 11 year old will not have sex until she is married (or whatever behavior this woman wanted) because she was protected from the filth in this graphic novel.

    Really, what is the point in taking such a stand? I don’t honestly think “protection” of youth via this type of censorship makes that much of a difference in the long run. Especially in today’s America. I am not calling for unlimited exposure, but just saying that, in my opinion, this type of censorship accomplishes just about nothing.

    And I also think it’s a misdirection for the AL to say there should be no “brouhaha” because this is essentially a matter of violation of policy. Well, policy is implemented for fundamental reasons. The “employee manual and the state library association bill of rights” were shaped because people asked, to what extent should “library workers decide what people get to read?” It is, indeed, more than a question of policy violation. And we are right to raise these questions about the libraries’ role in affording access to information.

    Finally, as a commenter above mentioned, there is a difference between this graphic novel, which may reasonably be considered art, and bukkake – you unfortunately nearly equate the two. Libraries do not, in just about everyone’s opinion (contrary to your stupid comment in the last paragraph), want to carry Hustler or bukkake movies, but would, for instance, carry a (digital) reproduction of a Matisse nude or a DVD of “Last Tango in Paris,” and I won’t bother to discuss the difference between the two. You may indeed consider the latter, as well as this particular graphic novel to be inappropriate, in which case you should call for an “intelligent, principled stand” against them. It’s unfortunate you cannot draw a distinction, but I suppose that is the way people like you are.

  21. ElderLibrarian says:

    IMHO the firing was deserved mostly because of the sneaking into a patron’s record for no good reason.
    My library had a similar problem years ago, the mother became a local media hero for a few days, the item in question stayed in the library with warnings pasted so parents could see it. End of story.

  22. European Librarian says:

    Although I am sure others have pointed this out before, but you Americans have an entirely ridiculous notion of sexuality. An entire nation held captive by a centuries old puritan belief system. And you wonder why you have so many drugs, psychologists, guns and lawyers….

  23. JustWonderin says:

    Just wondering … are library blogs with titles like bookslut.com (which I learned about on the ALA’s “I Love Libraries” site) and the.effing.librarian etc. pornographic or profane — or is that different?

  24. Dr. Brooks says:

    If the books had PORN in them, the library workers were right and should get their jobs back.

  25. Unemployed Librarian says:

    NotMarianTheLibrarian — Nah, you’re right. The place sounds like a drag. I’ll stay unemployed.

  26. ThomasP says:

    Ah, yes, Dr. Brooks, let’s ignore that they broke library policy by accessing and altering confidential records.

    See, library workers should be able to make collection development decisions too, right? In place of actual librarians? Makes perfect sense.

  27. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    @Dr. Brooks –and who decides what constitutes “porn” exactly? These two clerks? It went through the right and proper review process and it was decided that the book was OK to be in a non-child section of the library. And I’ve read the book in question. I don’t classify it as pornography. A little racy? Maybe. Appropriate for an 11 year old? Probably not. But hardly NC-17 material.

  28. anonymous says:

    re: are library blogs with titles like bookslut.com (which I learned about on the ALA’s “I Love Libraries” site) and the.effing.librarian etc. pornographic or profane<<

    No, at least not by virtue of title. I suppose it would depend on what they actually post.

    re: or is that different?<<

    Well, yes.

  29. KLBS says:

    You didn’t even get to the comment that just killed me laughing at the bottom of the article: “I had people praying over me as I read it so I wouldn’t have the images stuck in my head.”

  30. ConfusedByItAll says:

    Collection Development censor books before they hit the shelf all the time (“Sorry, we don’t think this Conservative Christian books adds to our collection” is not an uncommon refrain.
    The silly part is checking and re-checking the book out. If she felt so strongly, she should have just taken it and chucked or burned it. It must not have circ-ed much (if she was able to check it out to herself repeatedly: our library has a 4x renew limit, so wonder how she was able to do this for so long), so until someone requested it, they went through the ILL or purchasing process, etc., the kid might have lost interest in the darn thing. I hate lack of forethought.

    And playing with records..WTH?

    I put things on hold for subjects that people ask me about but are too impatient to wait for while I look, but every staff member knows you don’t play with account holds.

    These people just set back the whole Safe Libraries movement by about a decade,so they really do deserve to lose their jobs.

  31. tmj says:

    Some of the arguments above seem amazingly shallow, e.g.: its wrong to shield children from porn because its against library policy. The real questions are 1) Why don’t libraries / librarians care about protecting children from porn, although, as AL states, just about everyone else does, and 2) should library policy override all other considerations?

  32. Post postmodern Librarian says:

    TMJ I think its a lack of policy or lack of following them that led to this situation. The lady’s friend should have stopped her, she should have been stopped by the director if everyone knew she had the book. The ILS should have caught the repeated holds. The acquisition librarian should have caught the content. Policy should have informed the acquisition librarian to question the content. There were enough place for this to be caught and lady disciplined way before she got fired. Unless of course everyone was waiting for her to get canned and thats a whole different ball of wax.

  33. Lyle Blake Smythers says:

    Am I the only person here who questions the need to “protect” children from pornography? Aside from the political necessity of covering your ass from attacks by tax payers, I find it offensive any time anyone tries to control anyone else’ access to anything, regardless of age. I find the motion picture rating system offensive.

  34. ConfusedByItAll says:

    I find anyone who doesn’t want to protect children from pornography offensive.

  35. LVLibrarian says:

    She could have just ‘destroyed’ the book but didn’t. It could have ‘disappeared.’ Instead she challenged it, then checked it out and essentially froze the book. There is nothing wrong with any of this. After all, a circ statistic is a circ statistic. Wanting it moved to a more adult part of the collection does not constitute censorship and appears perfectly reasonable. The problem is with the action of looking up someone’s account, making a decision that this item is not for them, cancelling the hold. That is presumptuous and unprofessional. From the article, it looks like this action stemmed from Boisvert, who deserves to be fired. In the event, I suspect that this has become a surprisingly large issue driven by a slow media cycle, something that our library district occasionally get subjected to when the local stations don’t have any murders or tea parties with which to lead.

  36. Torino says:

    As the AL and TMJ have pointed out, we librarians do NOT WANT TO PROTECT KIDS FROM PORNOGRAPHY. Actually, we not only “do not care” about protecting children from porn, but actively encourage it.

    I, and every one of my colleagues (all librarians), have for years shown pornographic pictures and movies during my storytimes. I have posted graphic and explicit pictures in the children’s area next to Eeyore and dinosaurs. And I have ordered pronographic DVDs to be catalogued E and J. Unlike the rest of the universe, we librarians have no qualms about that, as the AL most astutely observes.

  37. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    tmj – shield children from pornography? Please. That is the job of parents. If some dopey folks had their way Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl et al. would be banned from library shelves. If parents are so concerned about their offspring they need to do the censoring themselves because I don’t have a problem with children reading books by such authors. And uptight righteous busybodies have NO business telling me or my family what we may or may not read.

  38. just saying says:

    Alan Moore should write those ladies a thank you note. He got some free publicity for his books out of this whole debacle.

  39. Beelzebub says:

    AL,

    If you really wanted to make people angry on this board, you should have asked how pornography is defined. Only hardcore sex? Photographed, filmed or painted? How about drawings of little kids in their pajamas? I would love to hear the arguments.

    Waiting in anticipation,

    B.

  40. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    It’s nobody’s goll durned biddness (especially a librarian’s), who checks out what..except a parent of a child. Those two women deserved to lose their jobs….taking library materials from the library and purposely not returning them is a misdemeanor and punishable under the law.

    Talk about raging, self-righteous stoopidity…

    So, now, I guess I’m going to have to place a hold on the book myself to see what’s so hot & objectionable about it.

  41. louise says:

    These women weren’t librarians.

    Do libraries collect their salacious material and require proof of age before borrowing certain items?

    Anyway these women weren’t interested in keeping the porn away from children, they took the book out of circulation deliberately and permanently.

    My kid sees Hustler every time we walk into a drug store, why a library would waste precious funds on Hustler i don’t know.

  42. 44-year-old library guy says:

    There’s so many people who believe their answer is the only correct answer.

  43. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    @44-year-old library guy: Agreed. And I think there’s a very moderate check and balance in place during the whole selection and purchasing process. Most libraries shy away from extremely graphic depictions of violence or sex in graphic novels, and probably avoid purchasing the outright adult content graphic novels. Whether this is the right decision or not, I can’t say. I see both sides of the argument–why try to explain to a 12 year old that that Marvel Max comic, Alias, is probably not for him/her? It’s a Marvel comic and the kid likes Spider-man and The Hulk, so the kid assumes he or she will like this other comic. How do I explain to a 12 year old that they MAY not want to read a comic that deals, in a very mature and adult manner, with physical and mental rape? Well, yes, and the book drops the F bomb every other panel, but I think that’s a little less drastic of an issue.

    Personally, I think Marvel’s Alias title is brilliant, and when the series moved to a PG format and a different title, it really lost what made this comic special. If I was supreme overlord of the library, we’d have that, and many other adult-oriented titles. On the other hand–I personally don’t want to deal with eleventy-milliondy-billiondy protests.

    So we “weed” or “censor” just through flat out not purchasing, and choosing to make our GN collections go in another direction. Plus our catalogers can put something in an adult section, or another section that might give the hint that the subject matter isn’t for kids.

    ANYONE can ask a book to be reconsidered or refiled, if something slips through the cracks.

    Parents should also be aware of what their kids are checking out. I think we have MULTIPLE layers of “protection” for kids.

    It’s not my place to take the dimmest view possible of human nature and ASSUME parents won’t parent their children and review what they’re reading, or talk to them frankly about difficult concepts. It’s not my place to ASSUME that if someone reads something violent or sexual that they will automatically attempt to replicate that behavior, or that the images they read/saw will somehow scar them for life.

    My opinion is that it’s JUST information. Words on a page can’t hurt you. NOT discussing those ideas and thinking about them, for fear that they will… THAT is what will hurt you. I *really* like the Joker as a character, and a metaphor for chaos and insanity. Has it turned me into a mass murderer and avid fish lover? Well, I suppose I could tell you, but then I’d haveta kill you :)

    I will NEVER understand this idea that we can never discuss or read about ideas that we may, personally, be morally opposed to. I think it stunts our mental and spiritual growth to try and “protect” ourselves from “temptation” like that. I also think that one extreme of ALWAYS avoiding anything that could be considered “impure” leads directly to the other extreme. I guess there’s no such thing as a happy medium any more.