Friday, September 19, 2008

Windsor Public Library Claims Age Discrimination If Children Kept From Inappropriate Material, Thereby Misinforming its Community

Here is my Letter to the Editor submitted to the Windsor Journal in response to "Request to Remove Sex Education Book From Library Denied," by Jacqueline Bennett, The Windsor Journal, 18 September 2008.

Dear Editor:

Having read the recent article in the Windsor Journal about the Timothy Bergsma's concern regarding a library book, my overall impression is that what is missing is accurate information. When people make decisions, they should be informed decisions, not misinformed ones. Sadly, it appears the library has misinformed the citizens and the government of Windsor, CT.

The decision to refuse to remove the book was correct, but the decision to refuse to move it out of "Kidspace" is where the misinformation plays a role.

The prominent mention of the "Library Bill of Rights" and the recitation of "Article V" is presented without any balance whatsoever. Apparently, the library has led people to believe it would be "age" discrimination for a librarian to keep certain materials away from children. But this is misinformation for at least two reasons.

One, the library has not disclosed that in a case the American Library Association [ALA] lost in the US Supreme Court in 2003 entitled US v. ALA, the Court said, "The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree." So why does the ALA continue to call it "age" discrimination, and why does the Windsor library misinform the public similarly? See for yourself.

Two, the library was created by some local law that set out its mission. I'll bet ALA policy is not a part of that mission. If the library claims it is "age" discrimination to keep children from any material, that follows ALA policy, but it likely falls outside your own public library law that created the library in the first place. In other words, the library may be acting outside the law. In such a case, the government has every right and duty to step in to ensure compliance with the law. "Bergsma said technically the town manager has the authority to modify library policy." He may be correct, at least where the library is acting outside the law.

And no letters from any "Intellectual Freedom Committee" or similarly misinformed decisions "made in other towns" should make a difference. Is it "intellectual freedom" to allow a child access to inappropriate material even in the face of common sense, local law, and US v. ALA?

Mayor Donald Trinks is reported as having said the library made the "right choices." He also said, "One person's pornography is another person's art." I infer from the article that the Mayor did not have a full opportunity to become informed about the issues at the time of the interview, so I credit the Mayor for speaking out as he did. However, he is incorrect.

First, claiming it is a violation of "constitutional rights" to move a book from one section of the library to another is wrong. Even the ALA admits that does not present a problem. Listen to the podcast at to hear a major leader in the ALA say this herself.

Second, saying "one person's pornography is another person's art" is a way of saying anything goes. Ignore what US v. ALA said about children and inappropriate material. Ignore what local law says is the purpose of the local library. Ignore common sense. Anything goes. Besides, the issue is not pornography. As US v. ALA illustrates, the issue is "material inappropriate for minors," which is significantly different.

I certainly hope the citizens and especially the government get educated in a balanced fashion. Where the library is the sole source of that information, the news story reveals that would be an exercise in misinformation.

"Jepsen said he has confidence in the judgment of the library professionals." Really? Citizens should read US v. ALA. Listen to that ALA podcast I linked. Get out the local law that created the library and read it carefully. Get educated so library misinformation is easier to see.

Windsor children may be protected from inappropriate materials in a legal manner, but for the clouds of misinformation about "age" discrimination presented by the library in reliance on ALA policy.


by Jacqueline Bennett, The Windsor Journal, 18 September 2008
(reprinted under the Fair Use provision of the US Copyright Act):

A resident's requests to have a children's sex education book removed from the Main Library or relocated to a different section have been denied. The matter was part of an annual report from the Windsor Library Advisory Board to the Town Council on Sept. 15 at town hall. According to library board chairman Michael Raphael, over the last year one resident - Timothy Bergsma, of 24 Michelle Lane - made three separate requests to the board in regard to the same book. Initially, Bergsma asked the former library director Laura Kahkonen, who retired this summer, to remove the book. Citing library policy, she refused. Then Bergsma went to the library board that backed Kahkonen and voted unanimously to uphold the Library Development Collection Policy.

Adopted by the library board in 2007, the policy states: "while the library is aware that one or more persons may take issue with the selection of any items, the library does not have to remove from the shelves items purchased in accordance with the policy outlined here." The policy goes on to say that the purpose of the materials collection at the Main Library is to "make available materials for educational, informational and recreational needs of the community."

In addition, it states that the library subscribes to the Library Bill of Rights, which as interpreted by the American Library Association (ALA), essentially protects the intellectual freedom of minors. The ALA's interpretation states: "Library policies and procedures that effectively deny minors equal access to all library resources and services to other users violate the Library Bill of Rights." Article V of the Library Bill of Rights reads: "A person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views."

Raphael said the library board's response to the resident's requests is consistent with responses to similar complaints made in other towns. A letter of support was received by the board from Peter Chase of the Intellectual Freedom Committee, he noted.

Subsequent to the original request, says Gaye Rizzo, the Main Library's new director, Bergsma filled out a reconsideration form and brought two more requests directly to the board, both of which were denied on the basis of present library policy. The second request was that the book be moved to the young adults section and a third request asked that the book be moved to the parents section

According to Rizzo, the title of the book in question is "Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff."

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bergsma said "I was browsing through the children's section. I wasn't looking for trouble."

A Roman Catholic father of five children ranging in age from infant to 12, Bergsma said the family moved to Windsor in 2005. Two of his school-age children are home schooled while two others attend a parochial school. He said when he lived in Waterford he wrote a letter objecting to material at the Groton Public Library but did not pursue it because that was not his town library.

Bergsma said he wants other materials removed from the Main Library in Windsor but thus far has only made formal requests regarding the book. He contends the book goes beyond education and "advocates" behavior that he finds objectionable, as being acceptable or "normal," including masturbation, group masturbation, homosexual relationships, petting, oral sex, abortion and contraceptive use

"These viewpoints are being advocated to our youngest patrons," he said

Bergsma said the book is located in an area called "Kidspace." He believes that presenting these behaviors to children as being widely accepted promotes a further "degeneration of our sexual mores."

Although the library board denied his requests, members did ask library staff to look for additional materials to add to the collection that would represent a variety of viewpoints and to ask Bergsma for suggestions. The staff has followed through and, according to Bergsma, was even able to find more materials than he could. Nonetheless, he said he is not satisfied with adding materials as a solution.

Bergsma said he has also asked the library board to allow an exchange between the public and the members at their meetings so his questions can be answered directly. Currently, library board agendas allow for public comment but if a matter is not on the agenda it is not discussed by the board

The library board does not have a set meeting schedule, rather it meets quarterly at the call of special meetings. Its next meeting will likely be in October and Bergsma said he plans to attend. If the board does not arrange for a direct discussion between the public and the board, Bergsma said he plans to next approach Town Manager Peter Souza. Bergsma said technically the town manager has the authority to modify library policy.

If he feels it is necessary to go to Souza and does not get what he considers to be a satisfactory response, Bergsma said he plans then to bring his issues before the town council, which appoints members of the library board. He said he believes the board should be comprised of a membership more representative of all of Windsor . "The 9-0 votes I've been getting on these requests show the library board does not represent the whole town," he said

Mayor Donald Trinks, a Democrat, and Republican Councilor Donald Jepsen each said this week they are not familiar with the book.

Based on the information he does have, Trinks said, constitutional rights may be involved and that thus far library staff and board members have made the "right choices" following the process that is in place

"This was the first I had heard of it. It does bring up certain interest about constitutional rights, the town's obligation to disseminate all information and a parent's right not to have a child exposed to it," said the mayor.

Trinks added that parents have a responsibility to monitor what their children read at a public library just as they would monitor what their children watch on television.

Trinks and Jepsen agreed that passing judgement on the book is subjective. "One person's pornography is another person's art," said Trinks.

Jepsen said he has confidence in the judgment of the library professionals. "Everyone's threshold for what they find acceptable is different. It's the old question - 'what is pornography?' I don't know, but I'll know if I see it," said Jepsen.

As for a possible request to remove current library board members in regard to this situation, Jepsen said, "That is extreme."

©Windsor Journal 2008


  1. Thank you. Age discrimination? Please. We don't let 10 year olds drive a car or 16 year olds attend certain films without an adult. Is that 'age discrimination?'

    I've worked in public libraries and law libraries for 8 years and am currently in library school. I don't always agree with the positions on this blog, but in the main, I think you're doing a great service here.

  2. Thank you! I think the service is the provision of information, supported by verifiable and credible sources.

    For example, when the ALA talks about "age" discrimination, and I point out what the US Supreme Court said about that, I have provided a verifiable and credible source. People can read it for themselves and make their own decisions, instead of having them made for them by misinformation.

    I feel especially good that I have made an impression on you, someone in library school. As you might know from the "Annoyed Librarian" and other sources, library schools can often be ALA policy indoctrination centers.

    But when a library student says, "I don't always agree with the positions on this blog, but in the main, I think you're doing a great service here," that means to me you not only have an open mind, but you are aware the library school "education" may be one-sided. That makes me feel great.

    While understanding your need to remain "Anonymous," please try to spread the word about my blog. I have a really juicy blog post about to come out about something the ACLU of Idaho did that's totally reprehensible, and I'll again back it up with reliable sources, then I'll show how the ALA covers up the ACLU's actions.

    Thank you very much.

    Please consider adding your email to this blog's distribution list. I don't see who's getting feeds of this blog so your anonymity will remain intact.

  3. The book is characterized as a children's sex education book. The title of the book is Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff, obviously not a book for adults.

    It seems to me that the library appropriatly put the book in the children's section and that putting it in the adult section would be nothing more that an attempt to deny children access to a children's book.

    In my mind that would, indeed, be inappropriate age discrimination.

    Anon, I would appriciate it if you were to bring this case up in one of your classes and let us know what the considered opinion of your peers might be.

  4. I have not read the book. I'll assume it is not pornography since it made it past the selection process.

    That said, "The book is characterized as a children's sex education book," really means nothing. The community makes these decisions, not whomever characterized it.

    For example, the ALA gave a book containing oral sex and pervasive vulgarity an award as the best book of the year for children aged 12 and up. I personally got the author of that book to admit he would not give it to his own 12 year old if he had one. Should a community blindly rely on ALA awards, recommendations, or characterizations?

    Think further. Why should the community accept ALA characterizations?

    First, the ALA advises communities not to accept MPAA recommendations regarding movie ratings. Does the ALA get to enjoy a double standard?

    Second, the ALA says it is "age" discrimination for a librarian to keep such material from children. So the recommended book lists contain material inappropriate for children in the view of many communities but not in the view of the ALA. For example, one book had to be removed from 470 or so public schools in New York City due to inappropriate content, but it was on the ALA's top ten list for that year.

    Third, the ALA's characterizations sometimes contradict themselves. For example, consider a book about a father raping his daughter then having sex again with her and his daughter/granddaughter still wearing Pampers, then the mother forcing the child to have oral sex with her when she is caught having oral sex with the father. In one place the ALA said that book was for 11th and 12th grade only. In another place the ALA said the book was perfect for children of all ages. The ALA can't even agree with itself--just look at the ALA Council list in the past month where ALA Councilors are calling the ALA President a censor.

    So exactly why should communities blindly accept that "The book is characterized as a children's sex education book"?

    Saying the book is characterized as so and so necessarily implies that that characterization is accurate and the community must follow it. So I'd say it is very clever to start out an argument by getting people to give up half the battle before it is even started.

    And keeping inappropriate books from children is never age discrimination, unless you want to argue that the Supreme Court of the United States allows age discrimination against children. We know that is not the case. "Reactionary" knows that is not the case. It is just part of the neverending effort to force communities to believe, incorrectly, that a community has no say over its own public library.

    And who cares what "the considered opinion of your peers might be." The matter is decided by the law and by the community at issue, not by people attending library schools known to inculcate ALA propaganda values.

    People will continue to try to fool communities into thinking ALA policy trumps the US Supreme Court, local law, and common sense. Really, "Library Bill of Rights"? But as more and more communities are getting education about the issues, the clouds of propaganda are thinning out, as the first Anonymous's comment shows.

  5. Let me add that moving books from one library section to another poses no threat of censorship. I have a news video of a library director doing this, and a transcript and MP3 of the ALA saying this is okay. See "Know Your Library."


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