Requests to ban books for subject matter are few in Fulton County, but that doesn’t mean the controversy doesn’t touch this rural area.
Patrons of several public libraries in the area have occasionally complained about available reading material, but not vociferously enough for action to be taken, the library directors say. And if action were taken, it would be to scrutinize the book closely before removal would be considered.
The country is in the midst of Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by a nationwide coalition of organizations, including the American Library Association, to support freedom of expression. This year, the coalition has listed 416 books that were banned or challenged by communities in 2017 due to alleged inappropriate content.
The most challenged book, “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher, has been adapted into a Netflix series. It deals with the painful aftermath of a young woman’s suicide. Number 8 on the list, “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas, the story of a girl from a poor black neighborhood attending a mainly white prep school, is being released as a theatrical film Oct. 19. (The top 10 most challenged books are listed in an accompanying box.)
But because inappropriateness of content is considered subjective, the local directors – who confirm their libraries stock some of last year’s most controversial books – say complaints against a tome doesn’t necessarily seal its fate.
“Everybody’s interpretation of ‘appropriate’ is different,” said Wauseon Public Library Director Maricela DeLeon. “It’s hard for us to dictate what you should read and shouldn’t read. It’s a personal choice.”
During this week the library is displaying some of the books on the challenged top 10 list. DeLeon said in the past patrons have complained about certain books. Some in the 1990s even went as far as redacting some words in books they deemed offensive.
“We try to explain that our job isn’t to be a censor,” she said.
When books requested for delivery to a home-bound patron aren’t available the library attempts to provide alternatives that suit the the patron’s taste.
DeLeon said the library respects that reading matter is a personal choice. “If you don’t like it, don’t read it,” she said.
Jane Dominique, director of Evergreen Community Library in Metamora, said, “It would take more than one person to request that (a book) be banned. That’s the whole purpose of having a public library.”
The library does allow patrons to fill out a complaint form if they take issue with a book. If enough complaints are received the book is presented to the Board of Trustees. Dominique said during her tenure that hasn’t happened, and hasn’t been an issue. She said complaints against books are actually rare.
“I don’t know what it would take,” she said. “You have to be careful about that. You want to be respectful to someone who complains.”
Evergreen Community Library also displays banned books during the designated week. Dominique believes removing controversial material “is against the nature of what a public library is. What I like and what you like are different, but it’s not my place to decide what anyone’s going to read.”
Archbold Community Library provides complainants with a form to reconsider library materials. A patron can fill out one side with their concerns and suggestions on how to resolve them. The other side of the form explains the Library Bill of Rights, an American Library Association statement expressing the library user’s right to intellectual freedom and the association’s expectation that libraries support that right.
Ultimately, Director Sonya Huser decides what, if any, action will be taken, a decision the complainant can appeal to the library’s Board of Trustees.
Huser has been director almost a year, and in that time “no one wanted to go the the lengths to fill out the form. Honestly, I’ve had more complaints about movies than books. To each his own. I don’t expect anything I buy (for the library) to be loved by everyone. I’ve never come across something so absurd that it didn’t belong in any collection.”
The county’s school districts may treat book controversies a bit differently. Larry Brown, Wauseon schools superintendent, said media materials are bought for specific educational purposes and with the approval of the district’s principals.
To that end, any reading material deemed controversial is reviewed using four criteria: relationship of the material to course of study; the content’s uniqueness; the information’s maturation and comprehension levels; and the nature of the controversy.
“I am not aware of any parent ever requesting the removal of a book from our library/media centers in our school in the last five years,” Brown said in an email response. He said because school districts often have limited funds for library materials, purchases are based on specific needs.
Swanton Local Schools don’t have a policy for banning books. Superintendent Chris Lake said the district’s head librarian long ago received a single complaint about a book from a parent.
“What we do in those cases is note that a particular student does not have their parent’s permission to check that material out. We do not remove the book from the library,” he said.
Lake said because Swanton Local Schools are public “we do have an obligation to provide our students access to information even when that information might be considered controversial.” He said the schools take student maturity levels into consideration, as well as the material’s appropriateness as related to the curriculum.
“Those have been good guidelines for us, and we rarely find this to be an issue,” Lake said.
Fayette Local Schools Superintendent Erik Belcher said no books have been banned from the district during his seven years of tenure.
“I have not had complaints that I can recall. I would advise anyone with the complaints to follow the procedures outlined in our board policy,” he said.
If a complaint is registered, the book in question is reviewed by a committee composed of staff and lay members. The committee passes its information onto the school board which decides the book’s fate.
Belcher said because he’s never received such a complaint he’s unqualified to determine whether removing a controversial book is censorship.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.