Censoring books isn't part of a librarian's job description

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.

There are plenty of other romance and erotica titles in the library's collection that contain graphic sexual scenarios. It is not the library's place to determine what it makes available to the public based on subjective opinion, especially in the case of a New York Times bestseller fiction title and a Goodread's 2011 Choice Award finalist for Best Romance.

"50 Shades of Grey" may not be enjoyable for 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.

The ALA's policy goes on to say: "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."

Ms. Hastler's disapproval is censorship under these criteria. She should not cheapen our profession by saying she is not doing something that she clearly is doing.

Censorship hurts us all. It denies us the right to access information and materials and determine if they are 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 agree with Ms. Hastler's statement that choosing what to read is "up to everyone's own judgment." Providing materials and allowing access to information is our job and our mission as librarians. Censorship, in its many forms, is not.

Anne A. Baker, Bel Air

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