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Published: Friday, 5/18/2012

COMMENTARY

Banned books? Not in Lucas County

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Catcher in the Rye. Grapes of Wrath. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fahrenheit 451.

Congratulations, 50 Shades of Grey, you've just joined an elite literary class -- and not in a good way.

The aforementioned titles are all books banned at various times by school, library, town, city, and even state officials.

50 Shades of Grey was recently given the boot by some library districts in Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin, which objected to author E L James' erotic and occasionally graphic novel about a couple's racy relationship.

"It's semi-pornographic," Don Walker, a spokesman for Brevard County, Fla., which removed its 19 copies of the book from circulation, told the Associated Press.

"It doesn't suit our community standards," said Cay Hohmeister, director of libraries for Leon County, which includes Florida's capital, Tallahassee.

"We do not collect erotica at Gwinnett County Public Library ... [and] E L James' three books ... fit that description," said Deborah George, the county library's director of materials management. Gwinnett County is a suburb northeast of Atlanta, and its 15 library branches will not carry 50 Shades of Grey.

But don't look for the popular "mommy porn" (so-named because of its appeal to middle-aged women) novel to disappear from local Toledo-Lucas County Public Library shelves anytime soon -- if it's ever returned there at all. 50 Shades of Grey is the libraries' most-requested title in print and ebook forms, with 589 holds on the print version and nearly 250 holds on the digital version.

Besides, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library doesn't make a habit of removing books from circulation.

"We rarely ban books,' said Cathy Bartel circulation and materials use manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, "though we do get 'challenges.' "

Challenges are submitted via a "citizen's request for reconsideration of library materials policy" form available by asking at all Toledo-Lucas County libraries. It's a way for someone who is offended by a book and/or doesn't think the library should make it available to the public to share the opinion.

"If people are concerned about something they can fill out the form and then it's submitted usually to the manager of the branch service or the Main Library branch manager, depending on the [location of the] person who is questioning the item," Mrs. Bartel said. "They, in consultation with those who do the selections, a collection development department, would look at reviews and things, which is what we do when we buy things.

"Our goal is to have a well-balanced collection. What one person might find objectionable someone else would not, so we try to have all sides of the issues ... because we serve a very diverse population here in Lucas County."

In the nearly three decades Mrs. Bartel has worked at the library, she's never seen a book pulled from the shelves.

"We have on occasion determined that an item was not a children's book and had it moved to the adult collection," she said, "but that's just a question of shelving."

It turns out that age isn't a consideration either: The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library doesn't censor books from children.

"It's their parents that make those decisions," she said. "When parents sign up children for [library] cards, they agree they will be responsible for what their children check out. We are not in the position to make those kinds of decisions for parents. Parents need to make those decisions for themselves."

And so do adults ... if only their library officials would let them.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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