In Topeka, Restriction onSex Books in Library Hits Mayoral Race
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 02/24/2009
- Deputy mayor slams incumbent for appointees
- No lawsuit yet
- Would J-card be better?
The 5-3 decision last week by the board of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, KS, to restrict minors’ access to four books on sex has prompted significant debate—and has even become an issue in the local mayoral race.
Deputy Mayor Jeff Preisner, among five candidates (including incumbent Bill Bunten) in a mayoral primary election next week, has slammed Bunten for appointing four of the five board members who voted for the restriction, according to the Capital-Journal. Bunten, however, noted that Preisner and other Council members voted in favor of the appointments.
While library board chair Kerry Onstott Storey indicated that several board members—four, according to one commenter—who voted for the resolution all attend Topeka Bible Church, Bunten, who goes to First United Methodist Church, told the newspaper that he doesn’t ask about church membership when making appointments.
Criticism from peers
Meanwhile, the president of the Kansas Library Association expressed dismay at the board’s decision. "Unfortunately it opens the door for hundreds of thousands of books in libraries across the state to be restricted," Laura Loveless told the newspaper. "For the board to turn around and find objections—and they were purchased according to board policy—is confusing as well. This is a very dangerous door to open."
Other libraries, said Loveless, including the Kansas City Public Library, KS (where she works), offer parents the option of J-cards that limit what children can check out; they don’t restrict children from looking at library material, however.
No lawsuit yet
The burden of such restrictions on adults is what may invite legal challenges. Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray told the newspaper that a lawsuit should be a last resort, because he didn’t want the library to fight “a lawsuit they cannot possibly win.”
Meanwhile, Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, who recommended a lawsuit, still wants to wait and see how the new policy is implemented.
One commenter on the newspaper’s web site expressed understanding of those who support the restrictions but suggested that children do not seek out books in the library’s health section. Another wrote, “As a library patron, I would be more satisfied if they restricted library access for minors with no supervision instead of restricting minors' access to certain books.”
Ric Anderson, a columnist for the newspaper, pointed out the danger of a slippery slope, pointing to racy passages in John Grisham’s latest best-seller.
In a letter to the newspaper, one resident expressed dismay at the number of unsupervised children, warning, “It wouldn't take much for them, being bored, to gravitate to areas or themes that are not appropriate for their age.”
Another letter-writer, however, wrote, "I am ashamed of the board's decision and unless it is reversed will be returning only one more time—to take back my books and return my library card."