Supervisor Bill Postmus, Chairman
385 N. Arrowhead Avenue, 5th Floor
San Bernardino, CA 92415-0110
April 20, 2006
Dear Supervisor Postmus–
I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations united
in defense of free expression. We strongly urge you to reconsider your recent decision to remove Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty years of Japanese
comics from all San Bernardino County public libraries. The book was reportedly removed in response to a single complaint by a mother whose 16-year-old son mistakenly checked out the book and showed his mother the section on erotic manga.
We believe this is a classic case of censorship and urge you to reconsider. The removal of the book was clearly based on objections to its content, which is impermissible under the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court said in Board of Education v. Pico, the constitution does not permit "officially prescribed orthodoxy" which limits what people may read, think, speak, or say.
The critically acclaimed Manga: Sixty years of Japanese comics is one of the few introductions to the history of the genre of Japanese comics from 1945 to the present. Manga represent an extremely important
type of cultural production: in Japan manga account for forty percent of everything published each year and outside Japan there has been a global boom in sales, with the manga aesthetic spreading from comics into all areas of Western youth culture through film, computer games,
advertising, and design. Gravett’s history covers an extremely wide range of topics: from the specific attributes of manga in contrast to
American and European comics and the genres of girls’ and women’s comics to manga’s role as a major Japanese export and global influence.
Clearly, when it was ordered, the book met the criteria that form the basis for the library’s collection development policy. Having been checked out 128 times in less than a year (according to press reports), it has also received
the community vote.
Removing the book because of the sexual content of a small section not only entirely fails to consider the indisputable value of book as a whole, but also ignores the library’s obligation to serve all kinds of readers, including those who seek access to information about erotic art. A common misunderstanding is that "community standards" justify removing books with sexual or other potentially controversial content. In First Amendment law, however, "community standards" is one factor in determining whether material is obscene and would not authorize removal of otherwise legal material targeted for its content.
The book is now unavailable to all readers, including adults. Whatever arguments might be advanced to justify denying minors access to
non-obscene sexual content are inadequate to deny adults access to legal materials. As the Supreme Court has repeated on numerous occasions, "The level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that
which would be suitable for a sandbox."
We strongly urge you to protect the rights of all readers to read and think freely, and to reject the notion that the choices made by
any one reader may be imposed on any other. By reinstating the book you will demonstrate respect for your readers and their choices, for the professionalism of the librarians who serve the reading public, and for the First Amendment and its importance to a pluralistic democratic