Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leesburg Goes from Bad to Worse

An article in the September 28th edition of the Orlando Sentinel (click here) illustrates all too clearly why even small challenges to library books must be taken seriously and must be resisted vigorously.

The challenge to two books that started earlier this year in Leesburg, Florida, has now grown to a list of 40 books, according to the Sentinel.

I hope the Leesburg library has learned a lesson, and that other libraries learn from this mistake. You see, a big part of the problem is that the library tried to make a compromise, and that demonstrated nothing but weakness to the book challengers. The library gave an inch, and the challengers took a mile.

The compromise offered by the library was huge. They offered to split the Young Adult section in two, separating materials for older teens into a High School category along reading level and age lines. This is a huge undertaking, requiring library staff to review all Young Adult holdings, some 4,000 volumes in the Lessburg situation. This has been attempted by some libraries, usually quite small, in response to public pressures, and with dubious results.

It is also the maximum concession that book challengers can reasonably expect. This provides a VERY narrow ethical channel through which at least some of the interests of both the library and the challengers can be met, without crossing the line into censorship. The challengers would get books age-graded for older teens out of the Young Adult section, which would then serve the needs of younger teens. The library would be able to operate within professional and legal guidelines by dividing their collection by age-appropriateness rather than trying to judge ideas or how they are expressed.

Not good enough for the Leesburg book challengers, who, apparently, want to separate books along moral lines. The Sentinel quotes one challenger as saying, "If they move all the books, the indecent ones are still in with the decent ones and that's not accomplishing anything." That sounds like a perfect epitaph for the tombstone of the First Amendment.

And let this be a lesson to those who would compromise Free Speech with the would-be censors anywhere: show no weakness!

There was supposed to be a public meeting about this on Monday, and I look forward to reading more.


  1. Hey, the Sentinel story got repeated on the Chicago Tribute (here). Somebody in Leesburg must be press-savvy.

  2. Apparently, the Leesburg City commissioners voted to proceed with the compromise described above. I hope there will be more details in Tuesday's news. Click HERE for a short summary of the vote from the Sentinel.

  3. Sheesh, this sounds like West Bend version 2.0. I hope they release a list to the press showing what "indecent" books they want off the shelves.

    At least Maureen Johnson (author of The Bermudez Triangle ) knows, she's good at getting involved when her books are challenged. She went all out when Bermudez was challenged in Oklahoma.