Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brave Librarian Ignores False Censorship Charges to Keep Fifty Shades of Grey Out of Harford County Public Library

Mary Hastler is a brave library director who has ignored the false censorship charges to keep Fifty Shades of Grey out of the Harford County Public Library.  She is a model library director.  Read about her and her decision here:

Think about it—why is it even news that a library director properly applies library selection policy to keep out pornography?

Here is an email I wrote to her and to the Harford County government:

Dear Mary Hastler, Harford County Public Library Director,


You are a true gem, someone willing to do what's right, someone fulfilling her duties on behalf of the public.  You have stood up to the false claims of "censorship" and "banning" by complying with your library's book selection policy, then standing by that decision in the face of the tremendous pressure otherwise.  Such pressure has, for example, caused other library directors, such as in Brevard County, FL, to cave in to the pressure and reverse their original decisions.

I feel your local government should appropriately recognize and/or reward you for being a true public servant dedicated to the public, not to the diktat of people and organizations bringing great pressure to bear on you and your community, including the media with its false talk about bans and censorship.  After all, your library was created by some legal instrument and given broad but not unlimited power, and the government has the right and duty to ensure the library complies with that law, and I'll bet "anything goes" is not part of that law.

As if you did not already know, the US Supreme Court stands four square behind you regarding your decision on Fifty Shades of Grey:

US v. American Library Association, 539 US 194 (2003) [US v. ALA], is mainly about Internet filters, but the plurality and various dissents discuss book selection policies, says that libraries have broad discretion to make decisions under these policies if not ideologically driven, anything-goes policies are not appropriate for public libraries, and most libraries exclude pornography from print collections:

     Public libraries pursue the worthy missions of facilitating learning and cultural enrichment.  Appellee ALA's Library Bill of Rights states that libraries should provide "[b]ooks and other ... resources ... for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves."  201 F. Supp. 2d, at 420 (internal quotation marks omitted).  To fulfill their traditional missions, public libraries must have broad discretion to decide what material to provide to their patrons.  Although they seek to provide a wide array of information, their goal has never been to provide "universal coverage."  Id., at 421. Instead, public libraries seek to provide materials "that would be of the greatest direct benefit or interest to the community."  Ibid.  To this end, libraries collect only those materials deemed to have "requisite and appropriate quality."  Ibid.  See W. Katz, Collection Development: The Selection of Materials for Libraries 6 (1980) ("The librarian's responsibility ... is to separate out the gold from the garbage, not to preserve everything"); F. Drury, Book Selection xi (1930) ("[I]t is the aim of the selector to give the public, not everything it wants, but the best that it will read or use to advantage"); App. 636 (Rebuttal Expert Report of Donald G. Davis, Jr.) ("A hypothetical collection of everything that has been produced is not only of dubious value, but actually detrimental to users trying to find what they want to find and really need").
A library's need to exercise judgment in making collection decisions depends on its traditional role in identifying suitable and worthwhile material....  Most libraries already exclude pornography from their print collections because they deem it inappropriate for inclusion.  We do not subject these decisions to heightened scrutiny....
[Justice Stevens dissent:]
      As the plurality recognizes, we have always assumed that libraries have discretion when making decisions regarding what to include in, and exclude from, their collections.  That discretion is comparable to the " 'business of a university ... to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.' "  Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U. S. 234, 263 (1957) (Frankfurter, J., concurring in result) (citation omitted).4  As the District Court found, one of the central purposes of a library is to provide information for educational purposes: " 'Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.' "  201 F. Supp. 2d, at 420 (quoting the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights).  Given our Nation's deep commitment "to safeguarding academic freedom" and to the "robust exchange of ideas," Keyishian v. Board of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y., 385 U. S. 589, 603 (1967), a library's exercise of judgment with respect to its collection is entitled to First Amendment protection.  
[Justice Souter dissent, Justice Ginsburg joining:]
     Public libraries are indeed selective in what they acquire to place in their stacks, as they must be.  There is only so much money and so much shelf space, and the necessity to choose some material and reject the rest justifies the effort to be selective with an eye to demand, quality, and the object of maintaining the library as a place of civilized enquiry by widely different sorts of people.  Selectivity is thus necessary and complex, and these two characteristics explain why review of a library's selection decisions must be limited: the decisions are made all the time, and only in extreme cases could one expect particular choices to reveal impermissible reasons (reasons even the plurality would consider to be illegitimate), like excluding books because their authors are Democrats or their critiques of organized Christianity are unsympathetic.  See Board of Ed., Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U. S. 853, 870-871 (1982) (plurality opinion).  Review for rational basis is probably the most that any court could conduct, owing to the myriad particular selections that might be attacked by someone, and the difficulty of untangling the play of factors behind a particular decision.

I included that US Supreme Court language so that anyone else who sees it can begin to realize they need to clear their heads of the false claims of book banning and censorship when a library chooses to apply its selection policy.  After all, why even have a selection policy if anything goes?  Why have material reconsideration policies if anything goes?

I can say so much more, but I'll save it for now.

Given the caving in of the library director in Brevard County, FL, the ACLU/NCAC will use that opportunity to file additional legal threats with other libraries to force them to jettison their own selection policies.  You, Mary Hastler, stand out as a bright example to show just how empty are such legal threats.  You have to be heard.

Above I linked the article where I learned about your true grit.  It is entitled with the word "ban" right in the title even though that has absolutely nothing to do with the story.  It is an example of how the media bends stories to the will of others to fool the public into thinking something nefarious has occurred, instead of something actually praised by the US Supreme Court in US v. ALA, etc.

Therefore, I hereby offer you a forum to write freely on the matter, and I stress the importance of doing so to counter the pyrrhic success of the ACLU/NCAC in Brevard County, and the like.  People need to hear from you so that the ACLU/NCAC/ALA is not the only voice discussing the issue, and they intentionally mislead people.  For example, they did not advise Brevard County of the US v. ALA decision that says the exact opposite of the misinformation they chose to spread.  As I am the nation's leading critic of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom negative policies (as opposed to its positive ones), my SafeLibraries blog gets a lot of views and would be an ideal platform to have your say.  I hope you will consider guest posting on my blog, as others have:  Your words will go a long way toward educating other communities when they come under legal threats and heavy pressure from various interest groups and the media.  And you can interact with people in the comments section as well.

So brava to you for the excellent work you have done and for your backbone.  I hope the Harford County government sees you as the gem I do.

Call any time.


Found this from the library director herself:

And look at one example of how she is attacked by her own profession (a common occurrence), an example the ALA sent around to thousands.  See how the ALA is held up as the authoritative voice to follow, even though the US Supreme Court proved the "Library Bill of Rights" to be flawed/overbroad:

That reminds me:
"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."
And libraries use the same selection policy to censor out any books whatsoever with which they disagree politically, say books about ex-gays:




As the NCAC is now directly attacking the Harford County Public Library and using substantially the same letter as it used in Brevard County, I just published this in support of Harford County:


  1. If they have read half of the books they purchase before hand we would have any at all. I have read a lot of sexual books in the Harford County Library. Why would you ban these books and not the thousand books on your selves now? Is it b\c the head people of the library decided to read of the books before putting it into circulation and come to find out that is written porn? Really? Have you seen some of the movies on your selves\ books that are currently in circulation. You have no right to ban these books, and what ever happened to freedom of press.

    1. You're hilarious. The answer to your post is: Two wrongs don't make a right. And you're numb enough to consider this book banned. It's not banned, just not selected by the library because they have a policy NOT to carry porn, the same policy that prevent them from carrying Big Butt Sluts 2 DVD, despite porn enthusiasts might be coming into the library and protest:
      "Wahhhh you have no right to ban porn, what ever happened to freedom of press, wahhh!!!"
      In the book there was a scene where the guy busts a nut into the girl's mouth and she even described how it tasted, tell me how is that not porn?
      You're argument sucks and if you select your thoughts before expressing them the way libraries select their books, you wouldn't have to look so stupid.

  2. Thanks for writing, Anonymous. This will answer your concern:
    "Fifty Shades of Illogical," by Annoyed Librarian, Library Journal, 11 June 2012.

  3. Could you please provide the basis/source of your statement, "an example the ALA sent around to thousands." (re: "Censoring Books Isn't Part of a Librarian's Job Description," by Anna A. Baker, The Baltimore Sun, 7 June 2012, if I am understanding you correctly)? Thanks, as always!

    1. Heather, thank you for commenting here. Here is the information you seek, and know that the relevant distribution list goes to thousands. Guessing, I think about 6,000 from years ago when I looked.

      I just went to the list again to look up the number of addressees. At this date and time, the number is Subscribers: 681. I'll have to say it appears either the list has shrunken or my memory was faulty. I'll bet it's the latter. In any case, it's an honest mistake and does not substantially change much. The email was still sent to hundreds of people interested in such matters, and if I recall correctly (now in doubt) the ALA did not send around the library director's comments for balance. Now here is the exact email, cut and pasted, and not from my memory:

      On Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 12:46 PM, Deborah Caldwell-Stone wrote:

      from: Deborah Caldwell-Stone
      date: Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 12:46 PM
      subject: [ifaction] Censoring books isn't part of a librarian's job description
      mailing list:

      Censoring books isn't part of a librarian's job description
      Letter to the Editor
      Anne A. Baker
      Baltimore Sun
      June 7, 2012

      As an educator, certified Maryland public librarian and member of the Harford County community, I am disappointed and embarrassed by the Harford County Public Library's decision to censor the "50 Shades of Grey" series by E. L. James ("Too hot for Harford, librarian concludes," May 31).

      County library director Mary Hastler has denied censoring the book. However, by the American Library Association's own definition, censorship is "the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous. … The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone."

      I understand selection policy. But Ms. Hastler also states that "a lot of the reviews that came out very publicly and quickly identified these books as 'mommy porn.' Since our policy is that we don't buy porn, we made the decision not to purchase the series."

      This is a clear admission that she decided to censor these books because of their sexual content, an act that is both unprofessional and unethical.

      Full letter:,0,1919836.story


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