Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Removing Books About Homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage

A lot of what I do regarding libraries is behind the scenes.  For example, a women asked me for assistance in having a book about homosexuality and same sex marriage removed from a public library.  I advised her she will most likely be unsuccessful and specified why.  She said she would drop the challenge.  I have no doubt that I averted that book challenge.  I do this frequently enough to have put a dent in American Library Association's annual tally of challenged books!

Here's our conversation, edited to remove personally identifiable details:

Dear Mr. Kleinman,

I recently brought home from our library in ***, **, a cute looking picture book for my 5 year old called, "***" by *** ***.  When I read it however I saw that it talks about different types of families including those with 2 dads and 2 moms.  Thankfully, I saw this before my children read it and I will not show it to them.  My question is, "What do I do with it now?"  I object morally to children seeing this book.  I know it would be wrong to "lose" it or deface it.  Besides, my library location alone had about *** copies!  I have considered including a piece of paper in it that says something like, "Every child has a mother and a father."  Would that be legal or illegal?  Is there something more effective I can do to remove this book and others like it.  Incidentally, gay marriage is now legal in **, thanks to Federal court ruling, so I don't think the library will care if I object to it.

I have already contacted *** and *** and they said they could not advise me.

Thank you,

*** ***

Dear Mrs. ***,

Thank you for contacting SafeLibraries!  I’ll be happy to advise you in this matter.

First, there’s a difference between public and school libraries.  Based on my understanding of what I read, the library involved is a public library.  Know that getting books removed from public libraries is a whole lot harder than getting them removed from school libraries.  In my fifteen years of doing what I do, I have helped get books removed from school libraries, but never from public libraries.

The issue of homosexuality is separate and apart from the issue of library book selection policies.  Libraries do have book selection policies that must be followed and that can be used to have books removed, but I know of no book selection policies that exclude the issue of homosexuality per se.  Yes, many books dealing with the issue of homosexuality also contain material that is pervasively vulgar.  On the issue of vulgarity, books can successfully be removed from schools under the 1982 US Supreme Court of Board of Education v. Pico.  But not on the issue of homosexuality.  I have not read the book in question, but if it deals with homosexuality and is not pervasively vulgar, the book likely does not violate any library's book selection policy.  If it does not violate the library's policy, the library will not remove it.

You are correct not to deface the book or disappear it.  Others have tried that and it usually results in very negative consequences.  I have written about a few of such cases.

As to putting notes in the book, it will make you feel better but it will have no effect and will not stop people reading the book.  Yet it runs the risk of being traced back to you, again resulting in negative consequences.

You asked if there is an effective means to remove such books from the library.  The answer is it depends, but it is extremely unlikely.  In my opinion, only if you live in an area where the majority of people—including the majority of the library board—oppose homosexuality will you have any possibility of removing a book about homosexuality discussed in a non-vulgar manner.

If that book is non-vulgar, and given what you said about your state's law on gay marriage, it is my opinion that 1) the book will never be removed from the library, and 2) if you attempt to have the book removed or take any action in any other way, the library will make hay out of that, mock and vilify you, and use it as a reason to fund raise and make more of such books available at the library.  The end result is you'll be bullied terribly by the library and more people will read more material of the kind you oppose.

The library would be wrong to bully, but that's the technique libraries are trained to use by the American Library Association, that's what they all do, so I'm fairly certain that's what will happen to you.

In such a case as you have described as I understand it, my opinion would be to do nothing.

You have had the good fortune to reach out for help before acting.  Usually people act, get in trouble, then reach out for help.  By then it is too late to help if one of the planks of their complaint was moral opposition to homosexuality.  Even if they follow advice to drop such opposition as being not supported by the law, the library continues to use that initial complaint as a means for ridicule.

While I realize I may be providing advice that does not thrill you, I believe it to be accurate advice based on years of experience with these very same issues in a variety of settings.  So consider what I have said and act as you see fit.  If you do decide to go ahead by, say, filing a materials reconsideration request, I'll help guide you, but I'll continue to be frank about the absence of any likely chance for success.

On a side note, I like your email and I like my response.  I would like to remove all personally identifying material, including even the state, and publish both the email and my response on SafeLibraries to help more people similarly situated.  May I have your permission to do that?  Remember, I’ll leave out all personally identifying information, likely even the title/author of the book and the other organizations you contacted.

Again, thank you for contacting SafeLibraries.  Contact us any time you wish for any reason related to libraries.

Dear Mr. Kleinman,

Thank you for your prompt and thorough response!  You have been very helpful.  Yes, I give you permission to share this email exchange on SafeLibraries, provided my name and city are removed.


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