Saturday, September 22, 2007

Borrowing library books

Amongst my various Bloglines feeds on Wednesday afternoon was a new Read Roger post; Throw the book at her? In it were links to an incident concerning a Lewiston, Maine library patron who decided the content and illustrations of a children's book inappropriate, has checked them out of the library, and refuses to return them.

From the Associated Press
Boston Sun Journal

Critic of sex education book refuses to return library copies
September 18, 2007

LEWISTON, Maine --A Lewiston woman who was upset by the content of an acclaimed sex education book published 14 years ago has checked out copies from two libraries and refuses to give them back.

"Since I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and the sexually graphic, amoral abnormal contents, I will not be returning the books," JoAn Karkos wrote the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries last month.

Each letter was accompanied by a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of the book, "It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health."

"This has never happened before," said Rick Speer, director of the Lewiston Public Library. "It is clearly theft."

Speer returned the check, along with a form Karkos could use to request that the book be removed from library shelves. But he said he may seek help from police if she doesn't return what she borrowed.

"That's really what we want," Speer said. "We want the book back."

Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the book features frank but cartoon-like illustrations of naked people in chapters on topics that include abstinence, masturbation and sexually transmitted diseases.

The publisher, Massachusetts-based Candlewick Press, said "It's Perfectly Normal" has been sold in 25 countries and translated into 21 languages.

Championed by Planned Parenthood, the book has come under fire from conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and the anti-abortion American Life League. It was the American Library Association's most challenged book in 2005, topping a list that also included books by J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrison and Judy Blume.

Karkos, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that she first heard of the book from the American Life League, an anti-abortion group. She felt compelled to act after she checked out the book and found it to be "pornographic" and worse than she originally feared.

"Hopefully, this will harness enough people to be sufficiently horrified and and want to speak out, to say it's gone too far," Karkos said, adding that she was aware that drawing attention to the book might raise people's interest in it.

Rosemary Waltos, director of the Auburn Public Library, said Karkos' decision not to return the book was "an inappropriate act" that will likely prove fruitless.

"If somebody wants a copy, they can get one," she said, noting that at least three dozen Maine libraries have copies available for interlibrary loan.

Both libraries have ordered replacements for the books Karkos took. Speers ordered two more copies because of an increase in requests for the book after the (Lewiston) Sun Journal published a letter from Karkos condemning the book.

There has been a subsequent flurry of interest regarding this issue, especially happening this close to ALA's yearly celebration Banned Books Week. Here are a few links to more information:

Comments on the news articles and blogs range from "how dare she" to "bravo." I found a statement on the Boston Daily Blog from a LIS student particularly well done:

"Not everyone will like what is selected for a library — not even librarians at times — but it is important that the materials selected present ideas and views in every area (liberal, conservative, radical, etc.) and should be, at the very least, unbiased. Librarians take extra means to selecting material and analyze how the materials will be used. They understand that some books may cause an uproar and they are trained to know how to handle those type of situations. It is not up to a library patron or a librarian on selecting books, it is rather on the basis on meeting the needs of the public." LIS Student, Comments, Boston Daily Blog

This student is right; librarians are trained to select books for their library and library patrons. Not everyone will agree with the selections, therefore policy is in place to process this through legal channels; recourse on what may be perceived to be objectionable material is available to every patron.

Books are not selected for collections without thought to readership, usability, function, and information. Librarians take pride in their collections and the development thereof. Case in point, each year when a children's literature professor brings his class to the IRC he mentions that prior to my arrival, the collection was seen as somewhat stagnant and did not fulfill needs for his class. As a result, he did not bring them to the library. Size and breadth of the collection before my arrival was contingent upon a small budget for children's literature; there were many quality titles in the collection. A budget increase allowed for considerable growth and ability to purchase curriculum supporting children's literature. I take pride in knowing "my" collection is growing and meeting the needs of library patrons.

Curiosity compelled me to see if AU library had It's Perfectly Normal as part of the juvenile circulating collection. We do not. However, OhioLINK has 20 libraries with the original 1994 publication, and six libraries with the 2004 ten year anniversary edition. Both public and academic libraries have copies in their collection; interestingly, various public library copies were checked out and several academic libraries had their copies tagged local use only. The book is particularly well represented in larger academic libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries with curriculum materials centers. If interested, Amazon and Barnes & have the book and both have reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Wrapping this up with a neat bow is the upcoming celebration of ALA's Banned Books Week, this year taking place September 29 - October 6. One of the most frequently challenged books in 2005? Robie H. Harris's title It's Perfectly Normal.

Have you read a challenged book lately?

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