The "R" is for Urbandale


City officials in Urbandale, Iowa, are having a cow because kids are able to check out R-rated movies from the local library. The library board will discuss the video policy at its meeting tomorrow night.


Unfortunately, this type of poor policy is what generates the distrust of public libraries in caring about children. I mean, can they be honest that they didn't know this was a problem? Sure, I remember watching some pretty borderline movies with my father when I was young (Taxi Driver for one!), but I wouldn't expect it to be handed to me without question from my library.

'Library Board of Trustees will discuss the movie policy...' Hmmmm....let's agree that ratings on movies often err on the side of conservative, but they do reflect the fact that 'R' is too much for most every child without supervision.

Some librarians say a restrictive policy violates the core values of libraries to give all patrons full access to informative materials.

"There's a perception somehow you can protect children by preventing access to information," said Gina Millsap, former president of the Iowa Library Association.

She said she opposes restrictions to movies based on age.

Sorry, but as a father, this is one reason why I will continue to distrust public libraries/librarians that state that children have rights that trump those of their parents to raise them. It's just wrong. Sure, some R-rated films are informative, many are not in any sense of the word. Plain wrong. Even so, do you want your 8-year-old to see an informative movie like Schindler's List (rated R) without parental supervision? I'd doubt it. And I don't give a flying hoot that Gina Millsap believes that restrictions based on age shouldn't matter, because they do. I hope her local 7-11 owner doesn't feel analogous about cigarettes and beer when her teenage daughter/son visits the store with friends.

Do you really want your public taxpayers, many of which are parents, to be advised that their children should be accompanied in the library?Does anyone remember Charlie Brown, the Brady Kids or Punky Brewster getting parental escorts to the library? Is this where public libraries are headed?I do know what I am talking about and this is a recipe for a PR disaster. Good luck on next year's tax levy increase or bond issue.I can see it now, "Parents Strongly Encouraged to Accompany Children in our Library" hanging directly below "T-Rex Tooth Flossing Puppet Show Today at 9am".As for the Reader's Guide business with your childhood library, don't confuse bad library management with this issue. Many libraries restrict access by patron type to certain material. No harm no foul.I guess we should be thankful Urbandale PL hasn't decided to pick up Deby Does Dallas?? I guess learning numbers like "69" could be construed as "informative"."Reasonability".

> I pretty much speak my mindThat should be the motto for LISNews and any group log like this. I've had too much fun today with this topic, but Brian summed it up well here. Speak your mind...and we can all still have a drink together at the end of the day.

It's quite possible that the parents in this case received "notice" that their kids may check out *anything* when they registered the kids for library cards. I have no objection to a library offering parents optional access levels when they sign up for their kids' library cards, as long as access categories are clearly defined and accurately described.

Could cause problems later on, though, when the butterfly book a kid needs for a school assignment is shelved in adult non-fiction.

And here in Tennessee. There's a law on the books that says it is illegal to distribute, lend, etc.. any visual materials that are R-rated to anyone under the age of 17 (or 18, I can't remember). We had a young patron write an essay about how she felt it was wrong that she as a 13 yr-old could check out any video no matter what the rating. A county politician jumped on it, and the library altered our policies... so now we check ids for any r-rated video or dvd. I don't know if any other libraries are doing the same thing in TN, but we were advised by our legal department that the law applied not only to video stores but the library as well.

In an ironic twist of fate, the young person who wrote the initial essay came into one of our branches and attempted to check out a video, which was r-rated, and was furious when they were denied access.

Love that twist! Do you have the cite for the law? I just searched the Tennesee statutes, and the only mention of MPAA ratings I found is that multi-screen theaters need to have things set up so that kids can't buy a ticket for a G or PG film and sneak into an R. There is a statute that empowers local governments to set up their own boards to classify films as suitable or unsuitable for minors, so maybe your county board automatically calls R-rated flicks unsuitable. I suspect that this hasn't been challenged in court.

An appendix to my last message:
I checked, according to the law we cannot checkout any materials rated R to anyone who is not 18 or older. From our sticker: "[...]According to TCA 39-17-911, only persons age 18 and over may borrow this material.[...]"

I don't recall the Brady Bunch episode where Cindy gets molested over by the picture books, but I have read news stories over the last few years about kids being abused in libraries by strangers. And my Peanuts Treasury book seems to be missing the strip where Charlie Brown is dropped off at the library doors and walks across the street to smoke with Pigpen as soon as mom drives away.

The public library where I work probably isn't the only one with a sign like this already posted: "Parents are responsible for the behavior of their children while in the library. Children under the age of 10 must be attended by a parent or other responsible care giver, aged 14 or older, at all times while in the library." That policy was adopted 9 years ago; I'd be more comfortable these days if that age were raised a couple years.

Parents should be at the library to help their kids select materials, partly because parents ought be with their kids in a public facility anyway.

Thanks. That's the "harmful to minors" law. From 39-17-901:


(6) "Harmful to minors" means that quality of any description or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence or sadomasochistic abuse when the matter or performance:

(A) Would be found by the average person applying contemporary community standards to appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful or morbid interests of minors;

(B) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and

(C) Taken as whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific values for minors;


I doubt that the "R" rating has that same meaning, especially regarding (C).

Yeah, I agree that the ALA interp has some internal contradictions. The opposition to *all* age-based restrictions on access seems at odds with the statement, "Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources," which provides room for a library to give a parent the option of checking off "children's materials only" or "no videos" when getting a card for her kid.

There's been a lot of interesting discussion here. I'd like to spend my $0.02 with a little anecdote.
Straight out of library school, I worked a month as a secretary in the Dakota County Library System. One of my tasks was to take minutes at a library board meeting. We had a patron speak to the board about a similar video checkout policy. His 13-year-old daughter had borrowed two films from the library, one of which was Scary Movie, rated "R". He was upset about this, and wanted to recommend a change in the library policy.
At that time (and presumably still), parents could choose to restrict their children from renting videos from the adult collection regardless of MPAA rating. He felt that the policy should be changed so that the default was to keep children from checking out films, and that parents would have to give their kids permission. During the discussion, it came out that, in the past, that had been the policy, but it was changed because so many parents complained that kids weren't able to check out videos for school projects.
What I found really interesting was that he had no complaint whatsoever with the other film she checked out, The Patriot with Mel Gibson, also rated "R"! If the patron making the complaint can't agree wholeheartedly with the MPAA rating, how can he expect the library to do so?

Brian - I don't disagree with you on these points. Parents "just ain't what they used to be".The reality is that today's Ozzie and Harriet or, just Ozzie, just Harriet, Ozzie and Ozzie, Harriet and Harriet or Ozzie and Harriet, Harriet, Harriet in some Western States, expect their library to provide a safe environment for their little Ricky. Both physically and from questionable material.As an aside I respect your viewpoint and willingness to speak out. I also appreciate the fact that we can carry this discussion out without invoking "censoring" labels such as TROLL or FLAMEBAIT when somebody dares to speak out of turn.There is nothing I resent more than the audacity of those who "proofread" these posts for me.Keep posting.

Agreed.Suggestion: Can we amend this to "New Motto: Speak your mind and put a sock in your TROLL and FLAMEBAIT holsters"?

The public library I used all through high school would not permit anyone under 17 to check out videos. One option would be to limit checkout based on rating. That might cause a snag in cataloging and processing if this were something that needed to be coded into the system (like they had at my public library), but it is possible.

As far as I know, it hasn't been challenged in court. And I would think that would be something that would make the news. Especially, this being the seat of the bible belt and all.

I think I would feel more comfortable with restricting access to movies based on MPAA ratings if they were more consistent, required, and something that most parents would buy into. Right now, that's not the case.

tomeboy wrote: "The reality is that today's Ozzie and Harriet or, just Ozzie, just Harriet, Ozzie and Ozzie, Harriet and Harriet or Ozzie and Harriet, Harriet, Harriet in some Western States, expect their library to provide a safe environment for their little Ricky. Both physically and from questionable material."

But these expectations are unrealistic, and little good can come of perpetuating a false sense of security. I don't see it as a big PR problem if libraries do some 'splainin' about real life.

It's impossible for libraries to physically protect kids from pervs who walk in the doors, although we of course take measures we can to reduce the chance of an assault or abduction. (A man once exposed himself to a teen girl about 15 feet from the ref desk where I was sitting, and I didn't find out about it until the girl's mother phoned us hours later.) We can't ensure that kids who are dropped off at the library do what their parents want them to do here, or that they even stay in the building. And because parents have different definitions of "questionable material," for libraries to "protect" kids from it would mean second-guessing the parents or dictating to parents what is appropriate for their kids. Any method devised to "protect" kids would result in many kids still being able to check out materials their parents don't want them to have and other kids not being able to get stuff with which their parents have no problem.

I was a curious smart kid, and now I'm the father of one. I object to anyone outside of my household determining what's appropriate for my child to read or watch, and the Golden Rule requires that I not make those kinds of decisions for other parents. Which isn't to say I can't provide guidance; I don't think any librarian would hand Anne Rice to an 8-year-old who wants a book about vampires.

This has been a good discussion. I'm curious about where the left-liberal thought police are, though. Could it be that's a myth?

Then again, if you say that ALA is anything other than a group of satan-worshipping terrorist pornograpers, you risk getting in trouble with the thought police on the right. (grin)

I pretty much speak my mind, and I've never had a problem with a boss over any of my extracurricular public statements. Even when people were phoning the library director to demand that he fire me.

I suspect that the real problem is just that some bosses are assholes, and that's a quality which runs across the political/philospophical spectrum.

> The "responsible thing" is for parents to be with their kids at the library and help them make selections.Unfortunately, kids are not chained in the home. And if they go to the library alone, they have full reign of the resources regardless if a parent doesn't want them there to view/use certain materials.From ALA Free Access to Libraries for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights...> The mission, goals, and objectives of libraries do not authorize librarians or governing bodies to assume, abrogate, or overrule the rights and responsibilities of parents or legal guardians.Of course, it also provides no recourse or resources for parents to control access, beyond threatening their children. According to the strict interpretation by ALA, any library that limits access is violating the rights of the user. If a parent wants his/her child's privileges revoked, too bad according to ALA. Many libraries will help, others won't.

2. Actually, the 7-11, cigarettes-and-beer analogy is perfectly valid. In Canada. The big difference between the US and Canada is that in the States, movie ratings are an industry initiative and purely advisory (one reason the industry fights gov't use of their ratings is probably that the industry doesn't want to have to deal with gov't regulation), while in Canada movie ratings are the law.

Good point about the cigs and beer.
At my small-town library,all of the older-person videos (avoiding the term "adult", here), are donations. We have PGs, and occ. have a parent complain, but we try to motivate the parent to view it as an opening to discuss things with their kid.
We separate the kid vids from the grown-up vids.

If a young child brings up one of the PG-13 videos, I may ask them how their parent will feel about it. Sometimes, they choose to put it back, sometimes it gets checked out. I am not stopping them, per se, but they, by their actions, indicate if there will be backlash later (for us).

That's good your library (and librarians) have a better policy and show care, but its also still part of the problem. Just like Charles Barkley claiming that he's "not a role model", librarians are increasingly claiming that they are not responsible for raising children and supporting parents in raising their children. Always under the guise of 'free access to information'. Well, I'll bet that every library has some patrons whose access has been revoked or suspended for failure to comply with the rules, therefore freedom can be modified based on the circumstances.There are PG-13 movies with crude language, sexual innuendo, and immorality that some parents would view as inappropriate. Let's change the perspective. What if a known devout Muslim or Orthodox Jewish child asked the library to let them check out a PG-13 movie with some scenes obviously offensive to their religion? The expected backlash from those parents would most definitely cause the library to consider not allowing the movie to be checked out.Is a library a day-care or a parent? No. But it is a part of the community that IS responsible for helping parents raise and educate their children, not as a vehicle to subvert that effort. Everytime a library ignores its role towards children by falling back on the 'free access' argument it is slowly degrading its own perception in the public eye.

This same issue causes a local news frenzy in Philly a few years ago.

I don't see what the fuss is all about. When I was a child there was a children's department and an adult department. As a minor I wasn't even allowed to enter the adult department -- much less allowed to check out any materials from there.The truth is that there is a lot of material out there which is unsuitable for children and it's the responsible thing to do to keep those materials away from them.I'm sorry if this annoys the leftist liberals of ALA, but that's how it is. And before you start making an argument that I don't know what I'm talking about I'll say that I have an MLS from one of the top library schools in the country and over 10 years experience as a professional reference librarian.

Yes, I have kids, and am careful of what they view/read/play for music/play on computer;I am an active and concerned parent. I also see many parents who just blithely drop their kids off in my library to hang out for a few hrs., or they walk there after school and play computer games until their parent can get off work (we have regulations about the age limit that this is allowed).
I would just say that the parent has to be involved.

I don't think my director would want to back off if a person of a certain faith complained; that is exactly what happened: a mother from the religious right came in and blasted us for letting her son borrow a certain movie.

We are fortunate to have trustees who try not to micromanage our library, and also have a very tactful/diplomatic director.
Yes, we have to watch our image constantly. So, what do you suggest as an alternative? And, at what age would you stop policing the kids?

Good points, which I agree with whole heartedly. All the more reason to signup for a LISNews account so people know who you are (unless you are worried about backlash from comments).

Follow the guidelines on the movie box/case for starters. Very simple. PG-13 means:

R means R:

Caring parents cannot be involved in the process if the library subverts their authority without at least following the guidelines already in place for movies. Sure, some parents think PG is too much for their children regardless of age, but that's the point. Give parents the power to choose the time/place for their children to be exposed to this type of media.

I'd say change the policy that only adults can check out movies. Children may only do so if they get parental permission signed off on their card access.

"There's a perception somehow you can protect children by preventing access to information"Ms. Millsap's comments perfectly illustrate the growing "disconnect" between library organizations such as (ALA/ILA) and taxpayers of public libraries who are also parents. Serious stuff.Why the misinformaton?Libraries have always resticted access to certain material/content by patron type. Nothing new.It is also misleading that Ms. Millsap characterizes access to R rated movies as an "information" issue. Really?Unfortunately the real loser in this scenario will most likely be the Urbandale Public Library. Efforts to garner taxpayer support for increased levies, bonds, etc., will now be more difficult. Too bad.It's also too bad that ILA/ALA refuse to entertain "reasonability" with respect access issues involving children.

I have no intention of signing my name to my comments. I sort of have a habit of eating and having a roof over my head -- both of which would stop if the leftist thought police of ALA ever figured out who I was. I don't feel like spending the rest of my life wearing a paper hat and asking people "Would you like fries with that?"

I hear you. Trust me.However I would also ask you to reconsider. I wonder how many more of us who don't "drink the kool-aid" feel the same intimidation?Your points are good and I hope you continue to post.Please consider "coming out".

"leftist thought police of ALA " have no power whatsoever. Hence, the pathetic state of libarians and libraries.Now, the backlash from library administrators? THAT'S a valid concern.Sad that librarians get to defend intellectual freedom for all but themselves.

Anonymous - Not to worry about library administrators reading boards such as this.They prefer to chat with colleagues hobnobbing on the donut and coffee tour.

All is well in Libraryland, of course.

1. It's most likely illegal for a public library to use MPAA ratings as the basis for restricting minors' access to movies. More than 30 years ago, a federal court in Wisconsin ruled that it's unconstitutional for government to apply MPAA ratings this way. (Kenosha had a law that theaters couldn't let kids into R-rated flicks unless accompanied by a parent.) MPAA also fights the use of its ratings by government.

2. The 7-11, cigarettes-and-beer analogy isn't valid, and I shouldn't have to explain why.

3. An 8-year old shouldn't be in a library -- or pretty much anywhere -- without parental supervision.

You don't know what you're talking about. The "responsible thing" is for parents to be with their kids at the library and help them make selections. I'd think that conservatives would have a problem with a government bureaucracy saying whether their kids could look at a book or video. So much for keeping government off our backs.

I developed much of my eclectic taste in music, literature, and humor by checking out stuff from the library's adult area -- including "inappropriate" materials -- when I was a teen. (IIRC, it was a parental option to make a minor's library card "kid stuff only," which my mom didn't exercise.) And here I am now, a responsible parent who, unlike some prominent "pro-family" conservatives, is married to his first wife and doesn't abuse drugs or alcohol.

Incidentally, when I was in library school, my childhood library started a policy of no kids in the adult area. This policy had the effect of protecting students from using the Reader's Guide for their homework assignments.

If I keep posting on this I'll look like a reactionary, but it's an important subject to me...Illegal or not, that doesn't stop a library from classifying movies as adult or children. The law does not limit them from withholding access to certain movies without getting permission. Its only those who believe the ALA Library Bill of Rights is the word from the Creator hold fast to this idea. Or am I off here?> Policies which set minimum age limits for access to videotapes and/or other audiovisual materials and equipment, with or without parental permission, abridge library use for minors.Well, in your point #3 I agree. However ALA does not. Access is granted regardless, without any recourse for parents. It's a child's right.Certainly, the analogy I used is not valid, but I'd like to see a good argument for giving unrestricted access to R-rated movies to children without parental notice. In this case, it's not as if "Oops, there's a loophole in our policies here that we didn't know about!". Nope, they know, and they don't care. They subscribe to the ALA view.Library Director Sara Peterson said, "Parents - not librarians - must police what children bring home." That's right, hands-off, not my problem. ALA says it's a violation of that child's, as my favorite cartoon character says, "What, me worry?" What a load. I police my child, and I will do it until the day I die. But if you don't expect to help, then you're just asking for everyone to only look out for themselves.

This has been a most interesting discussion. I'll add a story from my not-so distant past. When I worked at a video store (I know, I know, it ain't a traditional library but bear with me), we had the default set so that anyone under the age of 17 couldn't rent R-rated movies. However, we also had a policy that if the Parent wished to allow their children to view anything R-rated we would change the kids records. This seemed to pacify the "R-rated = no kids" people and the "Don't tell my kids what they can or can't watch" people. It also made it tons easier on us when a customer would come in upset that their child rented something they found inappropriate. The phrase "You allowed them to rent r-rated materials. We can change that, if you wish." would usually calm them down.

FWIW, when I was growing up I was allowed to see practically anything I wanted. That was the way I was raised, but I am not going to argue anyone else's idea of appropriate vs. inappropriate. Their your kids, you're the one raising 'em, you decide what's best for 'em.