Discrimination and Shelving

James Nimmo writes "
The next meeting of the Metropolitan Library Commission of Oklahoma County is Thursday, August 25, 3:30pm at the Belle Isle Library, 5501 N. Villa, OKC. That's halfway between Penn and May on NW Highway, in north OKC. There is free parking and a large meeting room at this location in which the shelving policy will be on the agenda.

The current policy has been challenged by the right-wing demagoguery of GOP Rep. Sally Kern (HD 84-Bethany) who insists that the Metro Library is harboring obscene gay-friendly childrens books like "King & King" as quoted in the Oklahoma Gazette earlier this summer. Rob Abiera and www.gayOKC.com has a link to articles and op/eds concerning this issue.

Your past letters, faxes, and phone calls have been invaluable in supporting professional library standards during the course of this debate. But even the healthiest of structures need reinforcement from time to time. If you're unable to attend the Commission meeting please send support at the addresses and phone numbers posted at the end of my article which follows.

Feel free to copy/paste as you see fit or as my words may spark your own thoughts on the need for full equality and unprejudiced standards in our public library.

Maintaining the Mission or
Exercising the Hypocrisy of Fools?

I'm reasonably confident that the Metropolitan Library Commission's self-image is one of being a good conservator of the taxpayer's money. The Commission's own survey a few years ago indicated that taxpayers were comfortable that the library was the best example of money being well-spent and they were receiving the best return for their tax dollars.

Three Metro-sponsored projects come to mind in this regard:

1) Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man commemoration

2) "Fighting the Fires of Hate: Nazi Book Burning"

3) the upcoming "Oklahoma Holocaust Remembrance Exhibit"

All three events acknowledge important national and world examples of minorities persecuted due to ignorance and bigotry. By supporting these events Metro is doing what a library should--serving our society's memory through the printed word and visual images.

The current shelving policy debate is on the same level of importance as the examples I've given. Though it might seem to have little of the repercussions of the earlier examples, Metro's decision in the matter will have an effect for years to come on the treatment of all topics in this library system. Being a public source of information it will also influence the population of Oklahoma County in how minorities are perceived as a whole, both in person-to-person interactions and in the dispersal of public services.

Your decision will become widely known in hours as in the internet world important stories won't stay obscure. Whether the policy is based on the right of free inquiry or restrictive religious prejudice; whether it relies on Constitutional fundamentals or religious fundamentalism, this policy will affect attitudes in Oklahoma County and the entire state.

Ms. Sally Kern has tried to make the argument that the passage of a restrictive marriage amendment last year can dictate how a public library shelves its books. It is outrageously over-reaching for Ms. Kern to impose on the Metropolitan Library System the idea that this amendment is even tangentially related to library policy.

Though seemingly aimed at protecting children through an imaginary, undefined period of innocence, no example of harm has been presented by those opposed to professional library standards. Children are instead being used as a hostage shield by those backward-thinking politicians and bible-thumpers who are driven rabid by the growing realization that gay people are human, too, and that they are a part of mainstream America.

Having sponsored two exhibits from the National Holocaust Museum dealing with minorities and repressive political power it would seem a desertion of mission, it not deliberate hypocrisy, for the Metropolitan Library Commission to cave to those demands created by Ms. Kern in her attempt to make the Commission a stepping stone for her political longevity.

This policy debate is not a contest of a majority being superior to a minority, but rather if equality, science, and fair play are going to be given the importance they deserve. The alternative is to relegate these admirable human qualities to the back of the shelf, pushed there by ignorance, political expediency, and financial blackmail--none of which forward-thinking people would acknowledge as commendable points-of-view for a public library.


James Nimmo

Oklahoma City, OK

Mission Statement

The Metropolitan Library System facilitates the free flow of information and ideas by providing access to materials, services and programs to Oklahoma County's diverse community.

All Correspondence to the Library Commission is sent to:

Metropolitan Library System

300 Park Avenue

Oklahoma City, OK 73102

The phone number is (405) 606-3726

Note: Faxes may be sent to Library Commission members at the library system's administrative offices:
(405) 606-3722"


Ms. Sally Kern has tried to make the argument that the passage of a restrictive marriage amendment last year can dictate how a public library shelves its books. It is outrageously over-reaching for Ms. Kern to impose on the Metropolitan Library System the idea that this amendment is even tangentially related to library policy.

I don't understand. What does this mean? I am serious--and not trying to be funny. I truly don't get what arguement could be made that would impact how a public library would shelve its books.

I thought subject matter, catalogers, Dewey and Libray of Congress were used in determining where books are shelved. She doesn't seriously think she can just change the way a library system works, does she?

"We live in a representative democracy meaning someone else speaks for us and that person is elected by the people to do so."

It would seem from your posting that you're comfortable with the religious right having their say, as it seems to me that you're defending that POV. Are you going to tell me that seperation of church and state is NOT a civil right?

The Sally Kerns of Oklahoma think they should be able to impose their religious values in a tax-supported public library. That is an affront to my civil rights.

I was using segegation as an example of one majority imposing its views on a minority in violation of the law. That's what Brown v. Bd of Education was about.

IMO, no one has any business saying that books that can NOT by any stretch of the imagination be ruled JUDICIALLY obscene have to be removed because that particular POV is offended.

Metro of OK County has a policy that books are acquired according to a set of guidlines that do not EXCLUDE becasue some people might be offended.

Every library should have some legal and offensive material!

People go to religious services in your library? No, of course not so don't parse my words to invent something that I never said.

There is no civil right to have a particular book in a library, nope none what so ever. If you think there is then you are sadly misinformed. As for taxpayer representation there is no right for each taxpayer to have his or her whims catered to by the library. If the library does not and will not carry what you want you have little more recourse than to elect (or select or agitate for) a new library board (or whatever person or persons manages your library).

We live in a representative democracy meaning someone else speaks for us and that person is elected by the people to do so.

Bringing Civil Rights into a discussion of what library books are going to be in a collection is absurd and it offends those who shaped and rely on Civil Rights statutes to be granted their rightful place in society. Rosa Parks can tell me about Civil Rights, people who whine because the library is not pushing their agenda should find a cogent argument because Civil Rights is not it.

Excuse me for the seemingly unhelpful contact at gayokc.com. It was availabe last month. I would suggest a google search for Kern, Oklahoma is you would like more information. You might try 365gay.com.

I can't speak for any library system officially, but the Metro system of OK County has a clear policy of parents supervising their OWN children, and staff is NOT loco parentis.

If you CHOOSE to do that, well, that's your decision.

May I ask how then are gay parents, children, and other family members to develop self-respect for themselves and other gay people if those gay-themed books are segregated to places where no other subject is made a "red-light" area.

Are Asians, or any other racial minority, required to look in a special segregated area for their books specifically because a white anglo objects to the cataloging standard that places them side-by-side with "white" books?

Such seperation is counter to policy developed over many years in this system. As in any library, no one is expected to read ALL the books just because they are there. Nor does the inclusion of any book mean endorsement by the administration or the Commission.

We have books on evolution. Should they be removed because some extremely conservative community people support only creation?

Why should the sexual orientation and private lives of thousands of OK County citizens, gay and straight, be subjected to the approval or rejection of anyone else?

Is a public library going to be a place for all knowledge for anyone who can read, or just the suppository (yes, I mean suppository) for the superstitions of a few?

Such a plan sounds to me like the discrimination and segregation black people endured in this fine country, land of the free and home of the brave.

Not contact information, I was referring to the website listed, gayOKC.com, and the links available on its site.

Thousands of children's books she finds objectionable? Where does it say this? Considering we offer ourselves as reader's advisors to all ages and that we encourage students to come to the library knowing that parents aren't likely to be with them when school first lets out, we do in fact choose to be in loco parentis.

Your last paragraph sums up the discussion best, I think. Parents should police their own children, not the children of others.

No item is knowingly added or retained in this public library that violates state or Federal law.

In addition, your "majority rules" example overrides the concept of civil rights and taxpayer representation. My civil rights are NOT up to a ruling by the majority, even if that majority number could be determined.

For one example, most people in this country profess a belief in Protestant xianity. Should the separation of church and state therefore be ignored because the "majority" is that particular belief?

Ms. Kern "says" she "only" wants the books reshelved, but the Oklahoma County Metro (www.metrolibrary.org) system has thousands of childrens books which she finds objectionable.

She doesn't speak Latin herself, and neither do I, but she wants the library staff to serve as loco parentis for other ultra-conservatives.

I don't understand the unhelpful contact information you mention. The email address and phone numbers were taken directly from her legislative website.

Yes, you have completely grabbed the gold ring.
Ms. Kern is entirely obsessed with the private lives of gay people. It would seem she might have no private life of her own?

I can see some people are really upset by this issue and it seems to be taking over some people's lives.

I thought the members of the community, at least those that use the library, should decide what is suitable for the community. If one person says King and King is unacceptable and challenges it, yet 832 people show up to voice their opinion that it should be retained then it stays. I thought that was the way things worked. Conversely if hundreds of people say it goes, then it goes if fewer people (from the community served by that library - not bused in from points afar)want to keep it.

Since obsencity is based on community standards, shouldn't the people who go to the library decide what is right for the library? After all they pay for it.

I'm sure there are lots of places where gay books are not wanted, I guess San Francisco is not one of them. The collections of Birmingham, Alabama and SFO don't have to be identical, they just have to meet the needs of their respective patrons.

Either the patrons want it or they don't there really is no room for debate. Just because the library doesn't carry it does not mean it is removed from every bookstore (or for that matter every other library) on the face of the world. Libraries are about information not agendas.

I wish these people would shut the feck up and let librarians be librarians. If you don't like a book challenge it, if you want a book thats not there ask that it be ordered. If you challenge a book before reading it you deserve a beat down.

We have better things to do than worry about second graders reading a fairy tale. I'm sure if your son reads K & K he won't start wearing dresses. However if you don't want him to read it then look at what your brat selects before you check it out. Geez why can't people be responsible for themselves and their families and not fax, email, and call everyone on the planet when they find a book objectionable or when someone has a different point of view.

Her argument is that tax-supported libraries should not condon activity which is illegal.

LOL! OK (!), so I guess this means all the books that merely mention illegal activities might also be seen as condoning them and so should also be removed -- so say goodbye to any books mentioning murder, theft, extortion, kidnapping, nonconsensual sex (including an adult corrupting a minor), identity fraud, impersonation of a police officer or a member of the armed forces, non-payment of income taxes, destruction of private property, downloading copyrighted files from the Internet, trespassing, and jaywalking!

What in the world would that leave?? You'd even have to toss the Bible out, LOL!!

Actually the intial statements of Kern and the parent's who first went to the media (instead of to the OKC-area library system) with complaints was to have the material placed in a section other than the children's area. However, there is some conern now that Kern supporters (and perhaps Kern herself) are actually wanting to have all books with any sort of homosexual content or by homosexual writers pulled from libraries--Kern met with political activitist in another library system district recently to discuss her stance in more detail--I'm not sure if the poster attended and got his additional information for this meeting.

Kern's own words from the start of the issue can be found here http://www.lsb.state.ok.us/house/news7551.html.

On a side note, I'm curious why the submitter isn't coming to the Oklahoma Library Association or the OLA Blog (http://librarystories.blogspot.com) with these issues? LibraryStories has been following this story from a Okie library perspective and giving information from the Tulsa area as well.

Is Kern saying the books need to be pulled out of the children's collection? or the library completely? The only link you offer isn't very helpful and the actual news links it offers on the topic require registrartion.

Yes, this is just the point.

You have to hear her say this to get the full effect but I'll try to convey her essence.

Ms. Kern contends that since Oklahoma voters passed a state constitutional amendment to ban same-gender marriage last November, 2004, it should therefore be incumbent on public libraries to remove to the adult section those books written for children which depict a neutral or supportive viewpoint towards same-gender marriage.

Her argument is that tax-supported libraries should not condon activity which is illegal.

I would like write more, however, I believe my article posted above is clear. I don't want to put words in Kern's figurative mouth, she does quiet well at sticking her own foot in it, that there is little room for words from someone else.

You asked: "She doesn't seriously think she can just change the way a library system works, does she?"

Yes, she does think that her scorn of gay equality should allow her to dictate the abridgement of professional library standards in order to accommodate her homophobia. I'm not making this up. Call her office and ask her yourself.

Capitol Address:
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd
Room 332
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 557-7348

District Address:
2713 Sterling Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK 73127

[email protected]

Thanks for reading.

Separation of Church and State is not a Civil Right. As a matter of fact it is not even a Constitutional Right.

There is also no right, civil or not, not to be offended and that Sally Kerns offends you (or that you may offend her) is really tough luck.

Communities should be able to impose their values in tax supported libraries, that is why collection development should reflect community mores.

If the library in your community does not want books that you consider important then there is really little you can do. You can get a lot of people who share your beliefs to move into your community and change the social fabric to one more accepting of your views. Or you can move. Really there are no other choices.

Just as judges use community standards to decide what is obscene, the library must apply similar community standards when making collection development decisions. If there is going to be a great uproar over King & King it will not be added, if a handful of people want it and fewer are expected to complain then it will be added. Thats just reality.