The following letter was sent to the Harford County Public Library by Anne Baker of Bel Air. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
Harford County Public Library System
1221-A Brass Mill Road
Belcamp, MD 21017
June 2, 2012
Dear Ms. Hastler, Harford County Public Library Administrators, Material Selectors, and Board of Trustees,
As a member of the Harford County community, as a reader, as an educator, and as a certified Maryland public librarian, I am disappointed and embarrassed by your decision to self-censor our local library system. Specifically, I am referencing the articles published by The Baltimore Sun and The Aegis reporting your choice to not provide copies of the popular romance/erotica titles from the 50 Shades of Grey series by E. L. James.
Ms. Hastler is quoted in the Baltimore Sun as stating, “No, we’re not censoring.” However, by the American Library Association’s 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, “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.”
Here you admit you have decided to self-censor these books. You have made a decision based on sexual content and by certain reviews describing these titles subjectively as “mommy porn”. If these are truly the simplified reasons you stand behind your decision, they are unprofessional and unethical.
There are plenty of other romance and erotica titles in your collection with graphic sexual scenarios. It is not your place to determine what you wish to make available to the public based on subjective opinion. Especially, in this case, a New York Times Bestseller fiction title, and a Goodread’s 2011 Choice Award Finalist for Best Romance. This book may not be enjoyed by everyone, but it certainly may be of interest to local book club readers, romance and erotica fans, and even non-romance readers whose curiosity is piqued by its recent popularity.
The American Library Association’s stance on selection policy versus self-censorship states: “No library can make everything available, and selection decisions must be made. Selection is an inclusive process, where the library affirmatively seeks out materials which will serve its mission of providing a broad diversity of points of view and subject matter. By contrast, censorship is an exclusive process, by which individuals or institutions seek to deny access to or otherwise suppress ideas and information because they find those ideas offensive and do not want others to have access to them. There are many objective reasons unrelated to the ideas expressed in materials that a library might decide not to add those materials to its collection: redundancy, lack of community interest, expense, space, etc. Unless the decision is based on a disapproval of the ideas expressed and desire to keep those ideas away from public access, a decision not to select materials for a library collection is not censorship.”
Hence, your disapproval equals censorship. Please do not cheapen our profession by reporting to the public and media you are not doing something that you are clearly, transparently doing. Censorship hurts us all. It denies us the personal decision we each have: the right to gain access to information and material and to determine if this material is appropriate for our needs. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association states, “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”
May I remind HCPL of the ALA’s first and foremost policy from the Library Bill of Rights: “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”
I cringe to think how many other materials have not passed HCPL’s selection approval based on similar pretenses. And I am surprised by your decision. It connotes an impression HCPL does not wish to be relevant in a society that is constantly questioning libraries as pertinent modern institutions. We remain defined by our decisions and actions, as well as our inactions and denials. This decision on your part I’m afraid is one huge step backwards for what libraries stand for as a whole, and is immediately unfortunate and regretful for our Harford County community.
I agree with Ms. Hastler’s statement that choosing what to read is, “up to everyone’s own judgement.” Providing materials and allowing access to information – research and recreational – is our job, our charge, and our mission as librarians. Censorship, in its many forms, is not.
I admire and congratulate your upstanding employees who abide by these ethics and who do not stand beside your administrative decision. I support them wholly.
Thank you for reading and considering my concerns.
Anne A. Baker, MLS
Bel Air, MD
American Library Assocation’s Bill of Rights
American Library Association’s Code of Ethics
Harford County libraries won’t stock ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and sequels
May 30, 2012 By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-05-30/news/bs-ae-banned-book-20120530_1_novels-library-patrons-harford-county-public-library