Local public libraries avoid backlash amid flurry of book challenges

A wave of challenges to school library reading materials that recently made its way to the Hudson City School District has renewed the national debate about public constraints on books and other borrowable media.

Materials exploring sensitive topics such as race, sexuality and LGBTQ issues in particular have been targeted as inappropriate for minors by conservative groups and election candidates.

Do public libraries in the Greater Akron area face the same scrutiny of their shelves?

Short answer, no. Library directors and staff interviewed by the Beacon Journal said they saw few formal complaints filed against books and other materials in their collections.

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Laura E. Lehner, head of youth services at the Hudson Library & Historical Society, said that in her years in her current position, she has “had no contested title.”

“We have a very clear ‘re-review of materials’ review policy for when we receive them,” Lehner said. Patrons can request forms from the public services office, and the library determines a plan of action once submitted.

Lehner said Hudson Library uses American Library Association guidelines for material selection and feels “confident that our collection is balanced and meets the needs of our community.”

Laura Leonard, director of the Twinsburg Public Library, said challenges were rare there, too.

“In my years at the Twinsburg Public Library — and I’m entering my 25th year — I’ve only had four formal challenges,” Leonard said. Two were movies, she added.

Leonard said that during her first week on the desk when she worked for the Cleveland Public Library in 1997, she saw two challenged young adult books.

“The director and I have been there,” she said. “One book we determined was too mature for young adults, so we moved it to the adult shelves. The other we determined met our collection criteria and we kept it in the YA section .”

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Ann Hutchison, manager of the Barberton Public Library, said Sarah Granville, the library’s teen librarian, ‘has never released a book for teens’ following a customer who filed a complaint during his 18 years there. Hutchison added that Granville “may consider removing a book that has outdated language or concepts.” The most contested books, she added, were “those with sexual depictions”.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that parents can choose what their children read, but not what other people’s children read,” Granville said. “If we remove certain books, we remove another person’s choice.”

Library staff explain the materials challenge process

Library staff who were interviewed all said that there is a process their libraries follow if a customer has a complaint about something in the collection.

Valerie Sherman, collection development coordinator for the Akron-Summit County Public Library, said any customer concerned about an item should first discuss it with the manager of that location — who may be able to advise. explain why this material has been made available.

If the customer still has concerns, then they can ask them about the item, Sherman said. If this does not solve the problem, the customer will be asked to mail a “Request for Review of Library Materials” form to the library.

Once the form is received, Sherman said, “we review the concerns raised about the title in question. We then evaluate it against the criteria used when selecting materials for the collection” to determine if it should remain. on the shelves. “There are a number of criteria used to select and maintain a title in the collection. The work as a whole is considered. Some criteria may include whether the book has been well reviewed or received an award.”

Sherman said that over the past decade, the Akron-Summit County Public Library has received two such requests — both for non-fiction titles for minors about the United States that were part of a series.

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The Group followed more than 150 challenges in 2020

According to information from the American Library Association’s 2021 State of America’s Libraries Report, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges.

The bulk of those challenges, 73%, were for books and graphic novels. The second highest was 14% for programs.

Parents accounted for half of the challenges in libraries, which could include public, school, and other academic libraries. Public libraries saw 43% of the challenges, followed by 38% in schools and 15% in school libraries.

While book challenges led by curators have recently made national headlines, public libraries are receiving complaints from all ideological persuasions. Classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men”, for example, have been criticized for containing dialogue and subject matter that could be interpreted as running counter to the principles of diversity, fairness and inclusion.

Find the best adjustments for the community

Cuyahoga Falls Library Director Valerie Kocin said the library’s goal is “to provide all individuals in the community with carefully selected books and other materials to aid the individual in the pursuit of life. education, information, research, enjoyment and creative use of free time.”

“The collection should reflect diverse political, religious and socio-economic views and contain items representative of a variety of abilities, races, ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities,” Kocin said.

“The Library recognizes that some materials are controversial and that any given item may offend some patrons. All libraries contain materials which some patrons may find objectionable. Selection of materials will not be made on the basis of approval or ‘an anticipated disapproval,’ she said. but only on the basis of the principles and policies defined by the library.

Journalist April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com.

Top 10 most difficult books of 2020

As documented by the American Library Association: