get a library book removedIn all the pre-March Break fuss at school this past week, I forgot to share with you all this excellent article from Torontoist, which offers a glimpse inside the Toronto Public Library’s book removal process.

As the article explains, the library as a policy is reluctant to engage in censorship:

“The library recognizes the right of any individual or group to reject library material for personal use, but does not accord to any individual or group the right to restrict the freedom of others to make use of that same material.”

However, for patrons who do object to the material, there is a formal means for them to request it be removed. Once they fill out a request form, that gets sent to a collections manager who reviews it, then sends it on to a committee who renders the final verdict.

The article says that since 2000, they have received about 100 requests and only removed nine titles. But what I found interesting was that outright removal is not the only option the committee will consider. In one example, they rehomed a Tintin story from the children’s collection into the adult collection, where presumably readers would be better able to put some now-racist content into the appropriate context. The article also notes that sometimes, a patron can be satisfied just by having an opportunity to vent about something.

It was an interesting glimpse behind the curtain of my local library system. I wonder how other libraries handle removal requests?

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  1. Here in Broward County we have a formal review process. In brief.

    Customer complains about an item
    Customer speaks with the Branch Librarian to express concern.
    IF that does not satisfy them
    There is a form to fill out that is very specific.
    It has the library’s position on material reconsideration (we do not censor, we only remove based on particular criteria) that the person has to read and sign off on.
    Then they are required to complete a written objection that specifically states the reason why the material fits the categories described above.

    THEN if that form is actually filled out properly, the item in question goes to a committee. Each person on the committee is required to sign off on the guidelines again and then read or view the material up for reconsideration.

    Then that committee gives its recommendation to the Library Director. The Director then informs the original person the status of their request.

    I do not remember us removing any items totally from Circulation at all in the past decade or more. Lots of things get shifted in classification. Some of that is staff initiated as well.

    For the most part when someone sees the amount of work that goes into this and the fact that they have to make a public record that they do not like something with a very specific reason they understand that everyone should have the right to their own views.

  2. A friend of mine got nowhere with librarians when he objected to a porn magazine being in the same display racks as magazines children might look at.

    What’d he do? Not the patient and long-suffering sort, he didn’t bother with a process that might be no more than pretense. He took that magazine to out-of-the-way book stacks and dropped it between the shelves, well out of sight. He hadn’t stolen it and eventually it would be found. But now those kiddies would not be seeing it. It didn’t take long for that magazine to be moved behind the counter, available only on request like pricey oft-stolen magazines such as Architectural Digest.

    It says something less than complimentary about some library systems that they care so little about children and so much about one of ‘their’ magazines disappearing. One requires the public to go through a lot of bother that’s likely to come to naught. The other is easily and quickly done by the librarians themselves with no fuss being raised.

    “That’s self-censorship,” librarians will shriek, the veins on their foreheads bulging and their hearts pounding. No, it’s good sense and decency. It shows a respect for parents who visit the library with their kids.

    On another occasion, Barnes and Noble was selling a book that was little more than child porn for pedophiles. (It probably had a profitable markup.) A group organized people across the country. They went to their local B&N, found the book, then asked the clerk to bring over the store manager. In front of the manager, they ripped the book apart at the spine, told him they wouldn’t be paying for it, and dared him to call the police. None did.

    That, I was told, led to B&N yanking the book from their shelves. Clearly, money talks, whether at libraries or bookstores. When it’s involved, cries of “Censorship!!!!!!” become strangely muted.

    If you’d like a good one sentence description of what’s wrong with our society today, it’s that during the Sixties, when we as a society finally quit mistreating black people, we turned to treating children rotten with no-fault divorce, fatherless homes and legalized abortion.

    These attitudes by librarians and bookstore managers are but one symptom of that. And the fact that a Tintin story filled with outdated racist stereotypes (in the story above) would be moved to an adult area but porn magazines might now illustrates that to near perfection. There’s little that’s more pretentious that someone loudly fighting no-longer-fashionable evils but proudly defending contemporary ones that do great harm.

    Racism, we should never forget, was once considered fashionable and sophisticated as porn is today. The two highest earning films of the first half of the twentieth century drip with racism. The Ku Klux Klan are the heroes in The Birth of a Nation (1915), and it became the first film to be shown at the White House under Woodrow Wilson, an avid segregationist. It was the highest earning film until Gone with the Wind (1939), which has stereotypical black people happy and contented as slaves.

    When it comes to many libraries, consider me unimpressed with a removal process that’s biased to favor educated people who can fashion their arguments well and those politically well-connected enough to stimulate fear in librarians. I doubt the process described above is remotely fair. It heavily favors some at the expense of others.

  3. All of the libraries I’ve worked at have had a procedure similar to what BOB describes at Broward County.

    What Michael describes as a solution reminds me of the patron(s) who used to hide books on abortion in the drop-ceiling of the public library I used to work at. The logical outcome of this is that eventually someone is hiding the books *you* care about and think are perfectly reasonable. From my perspective it’s a species of vandalism of a public resource. Supervising everyone’s children to each family’s individual standards is not something you can reasonably expect.

    Mistakes sometimes get made, which is why there is a formal process for complaints. But a good library collection should have something to offend everyone, or it’s not doing its job.

  4. I would also like to know about the people organizing to destroy the “pedophile book” at Barnes & Noble. I searched for it on Google and got no results, even with a variety of search terms. You would think there would be some mention of it on the internet somewhere, it seems like a fairly provocative act. Is it as apocryphal as the porn magazine in the library’s display rack? I know Michael Perry has his own agenda, that came up on my Google searches…so it’s time to give us some verifiable facts instead of vague assertions of supposed events.

  5. There is an apocryphal though widely held belief amongst librarians that Heather Has Two Mommies remains in print solely because libraries and bookstores have to replace so many stolen copies. So crowdsourcing censorship can perhaps have inadvertent consequences.

  6. It’s been nearly a week and …. [crickets]. Not a peep from Michael W. Perry to support his claims. So I think it’s safe to assume that the porn mags at the library and the book shredding at B&N are bogus tales. As he might say, “consider me unimpressed.”

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