Two library employees were fired at the Jessamine County Public Library for violating library policy. Deciding that the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Black Dossier was inappropriate for young patrons, they conspired to keeping the book on permanent “checked-out” status and removed a “hold” one young patron placed on the book so that she would not be able to access it.
Library director Dr. Critchfield acted with both principle and courage when he dismissed the employees who decided that their personal views were more important than the library’s policy of serving the entire community and allowing library patrons to make their own decisions about what they, and their children, should read. By essentially stealing the graphic novel that they believed was inappropriate for minors, the two employees engaged in censorship and potentially exposed the library to legal liability for violating its constitutional obligations.
Like adults, minors have First Amendment rights, and the only people who should be making decisions about what they read are their parents. There was a time in this country when librarians censored what their patrons, both children and adults, could read. In the early 20th century, librarians actually hid trashy novels in the stacks in the hope that no one would find them. But in 1939 the American Library Association adopted the Library Bill of Rights, which provides that “libraries should provide information and materials presenting all points of view” and that “material should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal approval.” This was an historic step forward for free speech because it committed libraries to the purchase of a wide range of books and magazines and committed librarians to defending their selections from efforts to censor them.
If every library employee followed their example and restricted access to books that express views they oppose, what books would be left on the shelves? Libraries would contain only the least objectionable material, instead of places where people can explore ideas, even those considered offensive by others.
The book in question, like many books, may not be right for every user of the Jessamine County Public Library. Individual library users have the right to voice their concerns and select different materials for themselves and their own children. However, the First Amendment protects the right of those who wish to read the book and even to give it to their children. Parents who are worried about what their children read should supervise their library selections, not expect the library to act as censor or babysitter.
We urge the library board to support Dr. Critchfield by upholding its strong policies guaranteeing a broad choice of reading material and protecting the freedom to read.