Who Decides What Books to Ban


Who has the final word about challenged books in your library? The director? The Board of Trustees? This article from the Star Banner is about a library advisory board (made up of private citizens) that, through appeal, can be the final arbiter on any questionable book.\"The unanimous decision to change library policy came after four hours of rancorous public comment in front of hundreds of people packing the commission auditorium. Most of them spoke about \"It\'s Perfectly Normal,\" a sex education book by Robie H. Harris, which some have characterized as pornographic and want permanently removed from the library shelves.\"

\"Commissioners took no action against that specific book but altered the process for reviewing new books so that they have the final word. Under the new system, a complaint against a book will continue to be reviewed by a panel of librarians, with the library director deciding whether to keep the book on the shelves.\"

\"Anyone may appeal that decision to the Library Advisory Board, a group of citizens appointed by the County Commission. The Library Advisory Board\'s recommendation would go to the commission for a final decision.\"

\"Previously, the library director\'s decision was final. The library board had the power to hear the appeal, but not to overturn the decision, according to the county attorney.\"

\"Commissioner Randy Harris, who pushed for the change, said he was \"quite shocked\" by the content of the book by Robie Harris. It contains frank discussions and graphic illustrations of a wide range of topics related to human sexuality, including reproduction, masturbation, homosexuality and abortion.\"

\"Harris said he was particularly disturbed that one copy of the book was kept in the juvenile reference section, where books cannot be checked out but are accessible to children.\"

\"We don\'t have a kiddie section. The children\'s section is the kiddie section. Any 3-, 4- or 5-year-old that can reach four inches off the floor can have access to this book,\" Harris said.\"

\"Harris berated Library Director Julie Sieg, saying she and her staff had used \"no discretion\" in placing the book in the juvenile section. He also attacked the notion that he was making a call for censorship, saying that the entire library staff practices censorship when they decide what books to buy for the county library system.\"

\"Sieg said she reviewed \"It\'s Perfectly Normal\" after Eddie MacCausland, a member of the library board, filed a complaint about it. Following the recommendation of her librarians, Sieg decided to keep the book in circulation, determining that it was designed to educate, which she contrasted with some adult publications not carried by the library.\"

\"It doesn\'t have its intent to titillate, whereas one would say \'Playboy\' does,\" she said.\"

\"Harris said there should be a place for people to appeal beyond the library director, which he said should be their elected board answerable to the public. His motion to change library policy was quickly passed unanimously by the commission.\"

\"The board will make a decision on \"It\'s Perfectly Normal\" after the library board has rendered its verdict, expected on Jan. 23.\"

\"It is unclear whether the commission would have to choose between removing the book completely or keeping it in general circulation. Harris suggested creating a special section of restricted books that children could only access when accompanied by a parent. County staff will research the legality of such a move.\"

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