In my October 29th post here, and on a page on www.bannedinwestbend.info, I called attention to the firing of two library employees at the Jessamine County public library in Kentucky. The two employees prevented an 11-year-old patron from checking out a graphic novel called Black Dossier, which is part of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. The library employees took this action because they felt the book was pornographic or obscene.
Finally, some more incisive reportage has clarified some of the uncertainties in this situation. In an article that appeared on Sunday, November 8th, the Lexington Herald-Leader dug into the details.
As I suspected, the fired employees were circulation desk attendants and not full librarians (it was difficult to imagine librarians taking the actions these employees took). Also as suspected, their termination did not result from this isolated incident, but from over a year of resistance to library policies. At least one of the fired employees had challenged the book in question, going through the formal challenge process. After her challenge was considered and rejected, the employee checked the book out to herself and kept checking it out. Apparently, she still has the book, and is now accumulating 10 cents a day in late charges. The employee continues to deny wanting to keep the book away from adults, although that is exactly what she is doing.
As is all too typical of many cases of censorship, rhetoric and reality are two quite different things. The fired employees continue to assert that the book meets some legal definition of obscenity, even though the library considered that possibility and rejected it. As the Herald-Leader points out, Kentucky state law on obscenity contains specific exemptions with regard to public libraries, which is common (although not universal) in states across the country. Having examined the book myself, I can say with some certainty that it is racy but not obscene. They have gone so far as to assert that the library may be committing some kind of felony by having or circulating the book, and yet they never contacted the police about this alleged crime, a pattern we've seen carried out over and over again by people who say a book is obscene but know they'd be filing a false police report if they took their own words seriously enough to act upon them.
Also typical of many cases, the fired employees are asserting that the local community is a "conservative" one, and that "community standards" define the book in question as obscene. This, of course, is based on the quite mistaken notion that local communities have infinite leeway in defining what or is not obscene. As I've recently pointed out on this blog, the Supreme Court has been quite clear that community standards are flexible but nowhere near that flexible.
In my opinion, the Jessamine County public library is to be commended both for allowing these employees to work through the legitimate challenge procedures and for firing them when they made it perfectly clear that they were interfering with the library's basic mission.