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McClatchy reports on a case of a staff member at a library in Nicholasville, Kentucky deciding on her own to impose censorship on the library's patrons, by checking out and not returning a comic graphic novel, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Black Dossier.

She is reported to still have the book, carefully bookmarked at the offending pages and their images with pink and yellow highlight tags. Finally, her effort to renew the book one more time failed. An 11 year old child had put the book on hold. At that point, a second staff member at the library conspired with the first to remove the hold, on their own volition, to keep the book from falling into the hands of the child.

She was, she says, simply appalled that a child could find a book that contained so many outright visually obscene graphics in the Jessamine library where she worked. So nine months ago, she challenged its right to be included in the collection, and when that failed, she simply checked it out herself.

In effect, she removed the book from circulation. She checked it out over and over and over with her library card until a patron of the library, unaware of the circumstances of the book, put a hold on it, asking to be the next in line to check it out.

When Cook went to renew The Black Dossier on Sept. 21, the computer would not allow it because of the hold. Cook used her employee privileges to find out that the patron desiring the book was an 11-year-old girl.

This would not do.

On Sept. 22, Cook told two of her colleagues at the library about her dilemma, and Beth Boisvert made a decision. She would take the book off hold, thus disallowing the child — or the child's parents — ever to see the book.

Library employees fired over censorship of graphic novel

For this, the two employees were fired from the library.

As the McClatchy article explains, the question of censorship is not a simple one, especially in this case.

It has become a question of what public libraries are enshrined to do, what role they are to play in monitoring children and whether they get to decide what people get to read.

What complicates this is that the graphic novel in question meets no standard of obscenity by the law.

While it does contain many images of varied and explicit sexual behavior, it has been the subject of academic study. It was named by Time Magazine as one of its Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007 and called "genius," applauded for its ability to "pluck out the strange and angry and contradictory bits that underlie so much of the culture we live and think with today."

The staff member who decided to impose her censorship on others is quoted as having others pray over her while she read the graphic novel.

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.

Frankly, when I meet people like these, I pray that they do not start praying for me, because I find them sort of scary and threatening.

In fact, I am sure that these people will be right there praying to drive the devils out of people, too, while they burn them at the stake, or throw them in a pond to see if they float or drown, or maybe pile a layer of rocks on them to see if the devil makes them stop breathing.

There is no functional difference, just a qualitative one, in the arbitrary act of these people in seeking to impose their belief and value system on others.

Actually, it is sort of pathetic, since it is so clearly rooted in the profound ignorance of their fundamentalist religious beliefs, yet targeted at what seems almost like one randomly selected comic book. I am quiet familiar with the series, and I can guarantee you there is lot worse than it out there. I wonder what these people will do when confronted with some popular Japanese manga titles? The vapors will not even begin to describe it. In fact, you can find a lot more graphic sex and violence just by turning on your television and watching a few of the current top shows, like Criminal Minds or Law and Order SVU, than you will get from this series of comics and graphic novels. Criminal Minds is so explicit in its graphic portrayals of violence committed against women that I cannot watch it, it makes me ill. But I am not out there campaigning to censor other's access to it.

And that is the great danger and threat of these people. These are the people who start by burning books, and end up burning people.

And don't give me that 'it could not happen here' bit. The references about testing for witches mentioned above represent the sort of thinking that led to actions by these people's spiritual ancestors done right here in the early colonies of this nation in a little place called Salem.

Die, witches. Hmm. That would probably make for a good comic book.

UPDATE: Yes, as someone points out, this article is from a couple of years ago. But the issues it presents, censorship, imposition of religious fundamentalism on others, privacy violations of the customers putting a hold on the book, all address critical issues facing our nation and society at this time. It is strongly relevant, I think. I had not read about this case previously, and felt it needed addressing. I also find it odd that some go to great lengths to quibble over the definition of librarian (and having worked for a major mid-western university for the past 25 years, I know all about the sense of hierarchy and privilege of librarians in that research setting). To me, a librarian was one of my colleagues back during my college days, when I supported me and my wife and son working every night four hours and every other weekend all day at the public library in the city where I grew up and was attending college. Colleagues with whom I engaged in rubber band battles late in the evenings as things grew deathly quite close to closing time. So with that background, and a life spent loving public libraries as one of the finest expressions of access to knowledge in our culture, this article hit me very strongly, and in a not pleasant way.

Originally posted to HeartlandLiberal on Wed Apr 20, 2011 at 05:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers, Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, and My Old Kentucky Kos.

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