The Kids’ Right to Read Project opposed a challenge to Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar (Hachette) and The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson (Peguin) in the Leesburg, Florida Public Library in April 2009 after a parent objected to the sexual content and drug references in the books. KRRP sent this letter in response to the challenge.
Library Advisory Board
Leesburg Public Library
100 East Main Street
Leesburg, FL 34748
April 7, 2009
Dear Members of the Leesburg Public Library Advisory Board,
We write to oppose efforts to remove the books, The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson and Only in Your Dreams: A Gossip Girl Novel by Cecily von Ziegesar, from the Young Adults section of the Leesburg Public Library. We understand that one parent has objected to sexual content and drug references in the books and has asked that they be removed.
Both titles are recommended for exactly this age group. While books in the Young Adult section of the library may contain themes that are too mature for some teens, they may be meaningful to others. The books should be considered on the basis of their merit for the teens they serve, not based on a particular viewpoint, and as entire works, not based on excerpts some find objectionable.
The task of selecting library materials properly belongs to professional librarians. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children, but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions for others. Without questioning the sincerity of the parent who objects to the books, her views are not shared by all, and she has no right to impose those views on others or to demand that the public library holdings reflect her personal preferences.
The Constitution prohibits the public library from censoring material because some people find it offensive or distasteful. As many courts have noted, the public library’s role is to serve the entire community, not to reflect or cater to any specific viewpoint. For example, in Sund v. City of Wichita Falls (N.D. Tex., 2000) the court struck down a library’s petition system that allowed “any special interest group to suppress library materials on the basis of their content,” observing that the system “actually facilitates an infinite number of content- and viewpoint-based speech restrictions.” Which library cases can we use that are more on point?
The practical effect of acceding to a request to remove materials is to invite others to demand changes in the library’s holdings to reflect their views, leaving library staff vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands. If individuals object to a particular work, they are free to read something else. Meanwhile, other readers should have the freedom to choose from an inclusive and expansive reading selection. If parents have concerns about their own children’s reading choices, is it their responsibility to direct and supervise them, not to expect library shelves to reflect their views about parenting.
We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom and democracy: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression