A local group, Citizens Against Pornography, and some community members objected to a dozen titles in the young adult section of the St. Louis County Libraries. The group has asked that the library impose restrictions on the books, such as using a "rating" system to classify books, or requiring that teens get written permission from a parent or guardian to check the books out. NCAC and ABFFE sent the following letter to the school board in response:
Board of Trustees
St. Louis County Library – Headquarters
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63131-3598
September 16, 2008
Dear Members of the St. Louis County Library Board,
We write to oppose efforts to restrict access to books for young adults in the St. Louis County Libraries. We understand that the group, Citizens Against Pornography, and some community members have objected to Alice on Her Way by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Escape from Egypt by Sonia Levitin, Hard Cash by Kate Cann, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez, Looking for Alaska by John Green, 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp, and A Seahorse Year by Stacey D’Erasmo, as well as non-fiction books on sexuality and sexual health: Growing Up Gay in America by Jason R. Rich, Homosexuality: What Does It Mean?(Perspectives on Healthy Sexuality) by Julie K. Endersbe, Making Sexual Decisions: The Ultimate Teen Guide, and The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality by St. Stephen’s Community House. We also understand that those who object to these books have not submitted the required “Materials Reconsideration Form” and instead spoke against the books at a library board meeting.
A year ago, we were contacted by local residents about efforts to restrict access to books in the young adult section of the Daniel Boone branch library; many of the titles challenged then are the same as those listed above. The arguments in our letter to the County Council dated September 24, 2007 (attached) are still relevant.
We also understand that the current effort to restrict these books seeks to have them placed in the adult section of the library; to require that teens have written permission from a parent or guardian to check the books out; to use a “rating” system to classify books; and/or to establish an adult advisory committee to review literature before it is placed in the teen section of the library. These proposals would impose impractical demands and arbitrary standards and would create a chilling effect limiting what patrons read.
Single-letter ratings or single-word labels are inherently reductive and subjective. Novels and other complex materials can’t be described by a letter or single word, and it would be impossible to ensure that materials are rated consistently. For example, does a single instance of profanity warrant a label, or is it 10 instances, or 100? What would be the criteria for labeling something “mature” content?
The formation of an outside committee to “advise” librarians, label books, or decide when to place books written for teens in the adult section also raises significant, First Amendment concerns. There is no way to ensure that different individuals will judge things the same way. Moreover, such a policy would leave the library vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting objections to how material is rated or shelved, continuing controversies and potentially even legal challenges.
The task of selecting library materials properly belongs to professional librarians, who choose books to reflect a diversity of topics and viewpoints that meet the needs and interests of all patrons. Current policies require that those who object to a book submit a “Materials Reconsideration Form” to request a formal review by library officials. This process allows for a re-evaluation of the material, but also insures that library materials are not removed in deference to a particular viewpoint.
The library is for everyone, but no one has to read a book simply because it is on the library shelf. Those who object to the books are entitled to their view and need not read anything that offends them, but they are not entitled to impose their views on others or interfere with the right to hold a contrary view. If the library acceded to demands to restrict certain books because they offend personal or religious values, such an action would by definition infringe the rights of those who hold different values.
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.
Joan Bertin Chris Finan
Executive Director President
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
"Do You Know What Your Teen May Be Reading?" South County Times 08/22/2008