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Home / Articles / Today / National Today /  Child protection or censorship? Library employees lose jobs over book
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Thursday, November 12,2009

Child protection or censorship? Library employees lose jobs over book

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, says no U.S. library employee has ever been charged with that in a situation like this. Most states, including Kentucky, have written in an exclusion provision to that law, barring prosecution of libraries and education and scientific institutions.

Cook and Boisvert are not librarians. Generally, you must have a master's degree in library science to merit the professional title "librarian." The majority of library employees do not have an MLS. These paraprofessional positions go by a variety of titles depending on the library system.

Cook and Boisvert do not pretend to be librarians. Cook was a full-time employee of the library for four years before her firing. Boisvert worked 11 hours a week for more than two years before she was let go. Both women live in Jessamine County.

Cook says she consulted with a manager at the library at almost every step in her decision-making process about the graphic novel. She says when it first came to her attention, "someone suggested we spill a cup of tea on it. Instead I checked it out."

She then went through the proper procedure of challenging the book, something any patron can do. That required a committee, including Cook, to read the book.

"People prayed over me while I was reading it because I did not want those images in my head," she says.

The book was off the shelf for months while the committee reviewed it.

Cook says she found the book back on the shelves before she received a letter denying her request to have the book removed. She says she again told management she would check out the book indefinitely. She says she was not warned that this was a firing offense.

Then came Sept. 21.

Cook says that she never wanted the book taken off the shelves so adults couldn't see it.

"I'm an adult. I do not want you telling me what I can read," she says adamantly when you ask.

She just didn't want this book in the Graphic Novel section, which is located next to Young Adult Fiction. She didn't want it adjacent to what she calls "exaggerated comic books," like the X-Men series, and real comic books, like Spider-Man, which are so enticing to children.

In Scott and Woodford counties and in Lexington and Louisville, parents and legal guardians must sign for a child to obtain a library card. As such, in each of these libraries, as in the case of the Lexington Public Library, parents assume the "sole responsibility for their child's reading, viewing and listening of library materials. Neither the library nor library staff shall act in loco parentis. Selection and/or shelving of materials will not be influenced by the possibility that materials might inadvertently come into the possession of minors."

Earlene Arnett, director of the Scott County Public Library, explains that "libraries take censorship very seriously. We also take the parent's role very seriously. I'm sure they don't want me to make their decisions for them."

Arnett says that the Scott County library places graphic novels in the teen collection. "They are selected with the teen in mind," she says.

Martha White, acting director of the Lexington Public Library, says that some of the library's graphic novels are in juvenile literature and some are in adult fiction or adult non-fiction, depending on the content, the publisher and the review.

Neither the Scott or Lexington libraries had the book in question. The Louisville Free Public Library did, and it is placed in the adult section.

Both Cook and Boisvert applied for unemployment benefits in October. When the state inquired, the library denied their claims. Both appealed. Boisvert won because her basis for dismissal was too slight to merit a loss of benefit. Cook continues to appeal.

Both women say they remain baffled as to the reasoning behind their dismissal.

Critchfield would not comment on the terminations because they are personnel matters. According to the Employee Manual, grounds for dismissal can include insubordination, theft or misuse of the Jessamine library's property, breach of confidentiality information and any other violation of library policy.

At this point, Cook and Boisvert have not hired an attorney. They are not sure if they want their jobs back. They do, however, want their reputations back. Both say they have never been fired before.

On Nov. 4, a special meeting of the Jessamine library board was called to set procedures for taking public comment. On Nov. 18, the community will have its opportunity to speak.

Cook says the library, which she dearly loves, has a chance "to be champions here."

Judging from some comments on various Internet sites, it either already is or it will never be.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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