Respected library law expert Mary Minow, pictured at right, runs the LibraryLaw Blog, is a member of the Obama Administration, and is the daughter of former FCC Chairman Newton Minow noted for his "vast wasteland" speech. She was recently nominated by President Obama then appointed to the National Museum Library Service Board, an advisory board to the Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I have great respect for Mary, even supporting her nomination. In contrast, I did not support the nomination of Carla D. Hayden, a former American Library Association [ALA] President.
Burlington County Library System. She removed a book from her library for failure to meet its book selection policy—a picture from the book is included at right. For this she has been misrepresented in the media, e.g., "NJ Library, Citing Child Pornography, Removes GLBT Book," by Lauren Barack, School Library Journal, 27 July 2010, and criticized on partisan blogs—what a sin it is to be "active in the tea party movement"—e.g., "NJ Library Removes LGBT Book, Calling It 'Child Pornography,'" by Jim Burroway, Box Turtle Bulletin, 28 July 2010. The comments are particularly egregious.
Such a reception is not surprising from reporters swimming in media/ACLU/ALA misinformation and not fact checking. "[D]irect calls to Sweet were not returned." So you go ahead and publish false information uncritically? Neither are such practices surprising from partisan blogs and those who comment thereon, but et tu, Mary Minow?
Mary Minow wrote about Gail Sweet, indirectly, at "New Jersey ACLU Open Records Requests Show Book Removal Decisions History," by Mary Minow, LibraryLaw Blog, 23 July 2010. I responded on her blog post in a moderated comment that I reprint below because it has not yet been posted due solely to technical issues.
Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders. I'll write them an email recommending just that. If requested, I will attend a public meeting to make a personal appeal for Gail Sweet and to answer any questions about why the County should not be swayed by all the voices clamoring to have a say in the local libraries and public school libraries to reverse the library's properly made decision. Their political interests are more important to them than are Burlington County's children.
I may have some sway as I am viewed as a "library watchdog," etc. My web site has been considered by Agence France-Presse as "a clearing house for information about challenging books." Yes, the ALA views me as a "censor" opposed to intellectual freedom and privacy, but that indicates to me only that I have been effective in bringing communities more information to consider about how they are being misled by national organizations into leaving their own children exposed to harm it is perfectly legal to control. Think about it. How many times does the ALA have this US Supreme Court quote on its web site from the case it lost: "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." Twice. I added it, both times. On the other hand, "censor" has 525 hits.
Gail Sweet applied the library's selection policy initially due to the high school issue and before any patron complained. This frees the library from the need to use the materials reconsideration policy designed for patrons. I note the ALA article did report some accurate information that corroborates my findings based on my discussion with Gail Sweet, namely, "We were aware of the challenge at Rancocas Valley High School and took a look at the book…." In other words, she was doing her job the taxpayers pay her to do. This is partly why Gail Sweet is a model library director.
Everyone seeking to reverse the decision, on the irrelevant issue of homosexuality by the way, is complaining she should not have applied the selection policy and instead should have followed the policy designed for patrons. What a double standard. When people seek to add ex-gay books to the public library, in others words books that explain how to leave homosexuality, patron input is ignored and the selection policy is used to weed out such books, not the patron policy. Read the Annoyed Librarian on how selection is used to censor certain materials sought by "conservative Christians." Gail Sweet is guilty of refusing to follow a double standard that is used nationwide to block ex-gay material from public libraries without even a whimper from the national groups who are suddenly strident in Burlington County.
But Mary Minow is a respected library law expert and member of the Obama Administration. She should not be misleading the public and leaving it to people like me to pick up the phone, call Gail Sweet, and get the truth. Read below what I wrote for publication on her blog. I expose other red herrings, like the "child pornography" excuse to reverse the library's decision. Mary Minow should have defended Gail Sweet, not left her unnamed and undefended while recommending ALA and ACLU sources and actions. She should not have acted like the media and the blogs that wrongfully attack Gail Sweet. She's supposed to be an expert.
Et tu, Mary Minow? — Then fall, Gail Sweet! Not if I have anything to do with it. If Sweet's decision is going to be reversed, it should be on legitimate grounds, not on red herrings or false information, not even if perceived experts mislead people.
[UPDATE 14 Sep 2010: This blog post is being used as course reading in an ALA-approved academic setting:
Vancouver, BC, Canada.
[UPDATE 14 Sep 2010: Email from Ms. Minow dated 12 Aug 2010: "Important Correction: I am a nominee to IMLS, not a member of Obama administration."]
My response to Mary Minow's blog post:
You know I love your work. In this particular blog post of yours, however, there are a number of misleading statements.
"An active censorship campaign is underway in New Jersey…." If you use the word "censorship" when that is not what is really happening, that is not good. And you use it immediately to explain what is happening in NJ without first presenting the facts then explaining why you feel it is censorship. Instead, you just go for the propaganda value of promoting the censorship boogeyman when there really is none. That is not a problem to the extent that it diminishes how people may view what you say, but it is a problem when you are as prominent as you are and you are making false cries of censorship that only serve to diminish sensitivity to true censorship. "The ... elites have convinced themselves that they are taking a stand against cultural tyranny. .... [T]he reality is that it is those who cry 'Censorship!' the loudest who are the ones trying to stifle speech and force their moral world-view on others." Thank you, Dan Gerstein [ http://www.plan2succeed.org/wsj-why-the-democrats-are-losing-the-culture-wars11apr05by_dan_gerstein.html ].
In your next sentence you talk about "a conservative group," as if that were relevant in any way. How is that relevant, Mary? You do know, of course, that conservatives and liberals agree that, for example, children should be kept from inappropriate materials, right? Have you read Naomi Wolf's 12 March 2006 article in the New York Times entitled, "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things," right? [ http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/books/review/12wolf.html ] You do know Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon who opposes the Arizona governor's efforts regarding illegal aliens feels so strongly about protecting children that he saw to it the library used Internet filters that could not be disabled, right? He wrote directly to me saying,
I greatly appreciate that you have taken the time to express your thoughts on internet access in our public libraries. Like you, I champion the constitutional right to free speech and if people choose to access information on the web that is legal, they should not be prohibited from doing so. But also like you, I don't believe that the constitution obligates our government to provide access to pornography. It is readily available in the private sector, and that's where it should stay available.Speaking of left and right, you do know the US Supreme Court said in 2003, in a case the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union both lost [ http://laws.findlaw.com/us/539/194.html ], "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," Right? You know that, Mary, right? So the "conservative group" comment is really irrelevant.
Oh yes I understand others use it to cloud the real issues because they really have no legitimate argument, but you are not like them, Mary. You are an experienced professional well respected in her community and well versed in the means to logically argue for or against various positions. You likely even have direct experience in the very issue involved. Please do not fall back on the weak arguments of an ad hominem nature that others use who are not nearly so accomplished as you. Please drop the "conservative group" red herring.
By the way, the "child pornography" email is a red herring as well. We are talking about email now, between colleagues. Such emails are often short and use summarizations that are close to the real thing but not exact. Emails like this must be written hundreds of thousands of times a day worldwide. Such was the case here. How do I know? I asked the library director herself. Gail Sweet is her name. The two-word message was a facile means to explain the real problem that would have been much longer but was not needed/convenient in this particular collegial instance. People are using the two words as a means to cry foul then have the book restored to the library despite the library's selection policy as applied by the director and approved by the commission.
Moving on now, you said, "The ACLU found that a public library had also received an informal complaint from the same individual, that staff recommended removal, and that the library commission also voted to remove the title." Tsk, tsk. Mary, you are well respected. You really can do better than this. You can do what I did and call the people involved to do some fact checking. I called the library and spoke with the director. As I recall the conversation, the director became aware of the book and decided to act or acted before she "received an informal complaint from the same individual." The director, not "staff" as the ACLU misled you, applied the library's existing selection policy to the book and found it lacking. She recommended compliance with the selection policy to the library commission and all members agreed. Mary, the library simply applied its own existing library book selection policy to the material. There is no need for the library director to fill out a form designed for patrons before she may act under the existing book selection policy. Oh my, how onerous that precedent would be.
Speaking of the ACLU misleading you, the ACLU uses deception to force communities to act as the ACLU directs. No one in any community need be frightened of the ACLU pressure machine. Here's an example of the dishonesty of the ACLU. In Nampa, ID, after many years of effort, the library finally decided to move certain books such as The Joy of Gay Sex behind the counter so children could not access them. The ACLU threatened a lawsuit claiming First Amendment violations caused by the embarrassment of adults having to ask for such books. Sounds reasonable right? Just give in to the ACLU immediately, right? Well that's what Nampa did. A week later, the books were returned to the shelves where the children could access them. (I spoke with co-author Felice Picano about this incident, but that's an aside [ http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2008/10/dear-felice-picano-joy-of-gay-sex-co.html ].)
Where's the dishonesty? Where? In the very claim that frightened the library into giving in to the ACLU. Embarrassment. You see, the ACLU had made that very same claim five years earlier in that Supreme Court case I mentioned above and lost on that issue. The Court said, "the Constitution does not guarantee the right to acquire information at a public library without any risk of embarrassment." So exactly why did the ACLU demand Nampa back down due to the embarrassment issue? Obviously it has no substantive argument, thanks to US v. ALA, so legal threats sufficed to fool the community, and it did, and the children suffered as a result.
And you, Mary, report on the ACLU's findings uncritically. I would not expect that from you or someone like you. Instead, you say: "Thank you to ACLU-NJ for Open Records documents." Yes, thank you, ACLU, for interfering in yet another community to ensure all communities apply ACLU standards instead of community standards.
And organizations like the National Coalition Against Censorship [NCAC] are not much different, by the way. The NCAC is so radical as to take a position actually promoting porn [ http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/11/ncac-promotes-porn-says-keeping.html ]. Yet it is also decrying the library's decision [ http://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/its-not-about-the-children-revolutionary-voices-pulled-from-public-library/ ].
Back to Mary: "In contrast, the library did not appear to follow its own policies for handling challenges of controversial materials." Right, Mary, to the ACLU, the library did not appear to follow its own policies. But you know, Mary, as I explained above, that the book reconsideration policy is for patrons, not for library directors. Library directors need only apply the existing book selection policy, yet you did not explain this in your blog post. This is disappointing to me. Oh yes, you hint at it with "weeding" and "those procedures," but that is not enough for someone in your trusted position, Mary. Please understand. You must do more to provide accurate information and not propagandize on behalf of the ACLU.
I can see you know the difference between a patron procedure for filing challenges and the library procedure for "weeding," but you glance over it so quickly the average person would miss the distinction. That would leave in their minds the impression that the ACLU's position is correct, which it is not.
Mary, you need to do better. You are a leader in this area. Please don't be a misleader.