I'm not a prude, but....

Whenever there is an email, or a voice mail, or a paper letter that starts off this way, it is usually going to downhill. I'm sure that isn't always the case, but 9 times out of 10? Yes. What follows is usually a "Request for Reconsideration" of some item the library has purchased. We have an official form (and process) for this, but sometimes patrons and/or staff don't use the form and just contact us directly with their complaints.

Our process: When people fill out the request for reconsideration form at their local branch, they get forwarded to the Director of Collection Management (henceforth known as: my boss). She responds to them, usually after watching the offensive DVD or listening to the offensive CD. When it is a book, I'm not sure she reads the entire book cover to cover, but she always does call it in to look it over. The form asks people for basic information (title/author) and also for some detail on why they feel the book should be re-considered and what audience they feel the book should be directed towards. For instance, if a person thought a title was inappropriate for the TEEN/YA collection, maybe it would be better in the adult collection. Or Juvenile to Teen, or what have you. The person gets a personal letter/email back. Once upon a time, the collection development librarians wrote the responses to complaints, but it seems to go over better coming from the director, right? The end result is the same.

What kind of things are up for debate? Um....everything. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) about the kinds of things that people take offense to. Of course there are always the rap CDs, and the Urban fiction. DVDs are usually on top of the list as well. Tropic Thunder is one off the top of my head that I can remember. When romance books started to get more racy, there were complaints. I remember the complaint about Diane Whiteside clearly because I had no idea what they were complaining about. I mean, sometimes I get it with the complaints, even though I mostly find it silly. This one was pretty tame. I kept thinking that if they thought we shouldn't have this, then they would really be surprised by some of the other things in our collection!

One of my very favorite requests for reconsideration was from someone who thought we should remove a book about a serial killer because of one or two pages in the book that involved bestiality. Now, this was NOT a fiction book, but a true crime (364) book. I wish I could remember the title. Anyway, the fact that this person killed multiple people was not offensive. After all, the patron had checked out a book about a serial killer, so it must have been of interest to them. But what they did (or made victims do) with a dog was enough to have the book removed from the collection? I still have a hard time reconciling that. Serial killer! Not a good person! What do you expect he does with his free time?!

One of my other favorite R4R was in a similar vein (see what I did there?) There were a series of books based on the Friday the 13th movies, and someone thought they were too violent for the teens/ya audience. Now, perhaps they were. But they were in the ADULT collection. And we have the movies, which I haven't seen any complaints about. Granted, the books may have been more violent (without that pesky MPAA watching over the author's shoulder) than the movies, but it is just as likely that someone didn't think it was violent enough. It was refreshing to get a violence based R4R instead of a sex based one, though.

The boss tells me that the amount of requests for reconsideration are down for the year, and that's a good thing. One of our non-fiction selectors received an email from a staff member about a book recently purchased
It looks like it should be fiction, right? I'm not entirely sure it's as "true" as he says it is. But the complaint was that it is inappropriate, not well written, blah blah blah. Look at the title, and tell me you expect War and Peace. Mr. Dewey put it in 306 with the LC subject headings of "Allen, Jeff, 1976-" "Single men - Sexual Behavior-United States-Biography" and "Man-woman relationships-United States." Now, I'm not sure what you would expect opening a book with those subject headings, but I wouldn't think anything inside would be surprising. A 35 year old guy talking about sex. He likes sex with hot chicks, he has sex with as many hot chicks as possible, he doesn't like sex with fat chicks, but will do it if pressed. Etc. I missed the chapter on rocket science, but I'm sure it's there if you look hard enough! Just scanning through the book, a lot of it made me LOL and roll my eyes, but none of it was surprising or made me think no one in the city should read it.

And that is really the crux of request for reconsideration, isn't it? You're saying "I find something wrong with this so no one should be able to have access to it from the public library we all share." Imagine if collection development librarians bought only things they approved of. Or, worse yet, imagine if we got rid of everything someone disapproved of. I find it especially offensive when staff members, who are supposed to be all about freedom of information, make the case to deny everyone in the city a chance to make their own decisions about what they view, hear and read. Yes, limited funds (and space) means that we can't buy everything. Yes, we do have to make decisions on how best to spend our money. I'm not a prude but.... if it were up to me, I would buy 100 copies of Get Laid or Die Trying before I ever gave a dime to Ann Coulter's latest rag. The library isn't about what I want. Everyone who pays taxes to support the library should be able to go in and find something that appeals to them.

Does your library have a form/process for the reconsideration of materials? How does it work? Do you ever discard items based on public complaint? Talk to me!


Jeff Scott said…
Great post! My favorites are the ones who think we should filter the romance and mystery for swear words. I also had a challenge on a Shrek book (the original, pre-movie one). It's sometimes a question as to whether the book is the problem, or if the mind of the challenger is on the gutter :) Prude my eye!
Helgagrace said…
Still trying to figure out if I should buy a copy of Go the Fuck to Sleep for our collection...
Jeffe Kennedy said…
Fascinating insight into the process you all go through. Thanks for fighting the good fight!
Anne said…
Nice post! I, too, find it interesting to see what people complain about. In my experience at a couple of libraries, we hardly ever pulled an item based on a request for reconsideration. I think that speaks to the quality job our selectors do - they usually make good choices in the first place.

My most funny instance was when a patron asked that we remove a picture book from the collection because it contained an offensive word: "stupid."

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