Library's book selection policy under attack

June 28, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

ELDERSBURG -- Controversy over a book in the Carroll County Public Library has spread to a scrutiny by residents of the institution's policy on materials selection.

The book, "Getting Jesus in the Mood" by Anne Brashler, has been the target of complaints by Westminster resident Mary Hood, the Rev. Shelton Smith of the Church of the Open Door and countians who think the short story collection is "pornography in Jesus' name."

"Right now, I would prefer to be focusing on the larger issue," said Hood, declining specific comment on the book, which tells stories of physical and sexual abuse through the eyes of the victims.

"The problem with the criteria for selection is that they are limited to literary value and reviews," she said.

"There is specifically nothing in the criteria that it should conform to standards and values."

The library board -- sporting red, white and blue ribbons to signal support of freedom of speech and equal access to information -- reviewed the collection policy at its monthly meeting Wednesday and deemed it acceptable.

Members said they were looking at the policy because some newer members had not reviewed it, not because of complaints.

The policy states that materials are selected on the basis of perceived reader interest, literary merit and reviews. Individual values should not be part of the consideration process.

"If we've done our jobs correctly, we will respond with a wide range of materials that not everyone will like," said Jacque Adams, the library's materials management coordinator. "Selection doesn't reflect the personal approval or disapproval of the staff."

Although Adams selects books on a day-to-day basis, final responsibility for approval rests with the board of trustees.

But Hood, who has a doctorate in education from the University of Alabama, feels selection should not rest with a group of "elite library people."

"There should be a group of citizens reviewing books when complaints come in," the mother of five said. "At that point, there should be some people involved other than the board."

Library officials feel that the board fills that role.

"The library board is made up of citizens who have no professional connection to the library," said Martha Hankins, board president.

As prescribed by state law, the seven members are selected from each branch's service area. When there is a vacancy, applications and suggestions for membership are collected at the branch.

The board interviews applicants and submits a list of potential board members to the county commissioners, who make the final decision. Interview questions concern why applicants want the job, what special skills they can offer and how they feel about such policies as collection development and charging patrons fees.

In addition, board members feel that each patron should be able to decide what to read. For readers too young to decide for themselves, that decision should be left to children's parents.

"Different people have different standards," said Hankins. "We have tried to be very careful not to censor or censure content or impose one person's beliefs on someone else."

That does not preclude a parent telling a child that a book is too mature for her, Hankins added. She recalled discouraging her daughter from reading "The Toys in the Attic," which discusses child sexual abuse.

"One of the children in her class had read it and she wanted to read it," Hankins said. "I looked at the book and read the blurb on the back and said, 'I don't think you're old enough to read this book, but it might be something you'll read when you're older.'

"That's not censorship. I was simply doing my job as a parent and saying she wasn't old enough to read the book."

Hood says she is circulating petitions about the policy and making tentative plans for a march or rally.

"I'm sure the library is hoping we'll drop the issue, but we're not dropping the issue," she said.

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