The freedom to read

Across the nation, libraries are facing more attempts to ban books.

It seems partly due to political and cultural divides, as well as the emergence of graphic, or illustrated, novels.

The American Library Association say the challenges are usually to protect others — frequently children — from difficult ideas and information.

Dickinson County Library recently dealt with complaints about an adult book, “Patience and Esther: an Edwardian Romance,” described as “sensual, sweet, and beautifully illustrated” by its publisher, Iron Circus Comics.

Those objecting to the book had a different take, finding its sex scenes “extremely pornographic,” according to emails shared during a meeting of the library board. The board also heard from supporters of the book, including one who described it as “a wonderful story about the developing relationship between two consenting adults.”

After hearing from a number of people, the board on May 10 voted 4-1 to retain S.W. Earle’s erotic historical read.

“Patience and Esther” has always been cataloged and shelved as part of an adult collection, according to library officials. In light of the protest, however, the library has moved its adult graphic novels farther from the main reading room. Changes have also been made in shelving items of interest for teens and young adults.

This should help guard against young readers stumbling upon certain adult graphic novels if browsing outside the children’s area, Library Director Megan Buck said.

“While this solution may not work for those who wished the book be completely removed from the library, I do hope that parents who were concerned with allowing their tweens and teens to browse collections in the reading room will find comfort in these changes and with showing their children interested in graphic novels the two collections we’ve created,” Buck said.

The library also has a separate children’s section and officials have disputed a report in Bridge Michigan that “Patience and Esther” was formerly shelved adjacent to that area.

Meanwhile, the library has rejected suggestions that some materials be placed behind a counter so patrons would have to ask a librarian to check them out. Neither will warning labels on covers be instituted. Under the library’s policy, “materials are not labeled to indicate approval or disapproval of their contents.”

In general, it should be emphasized the library never intends to purchase materials with no literary or artistic merit. Insight into human and social conditions, for instance, is part of its four-page selection policy.

That’s not to say all patrons will find all materials worthy of being acquired.

At the June 13 Dickinson County Board meeting, Commissioner Ann Martin brought up the recent library dilemma, and expressed doubts that “Patience and Esther” — considered pornographic by some — should be part of a county library collection.

“A yes vote to future library millages may not be a given,” cautioned Martin, a non-voting liaison to the library board.

That’s a fair warning regarding any millage proposal, yes.

We would warn as well that there can be no assurance of precision when wielding that hammer.

At worst, it shuts down the institution. At the least, it opens the door to having a facility that becomes a museum of the “acceptable,” striving always not to offend.

“The library board recognizes that while individuals are free to reject for themselves materials of which they do not approve, they cannot restrict the freedom of others to read, listen and view within the guidelines set forth by the library,” the current materials selection policy states.

We would hope that policy stays in place.


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