Commentary

Book banning, reshelving has reached ridiculous heights

Some conservatives going much further than obscenity and efforts should be stopped

August 18, 2023 7:00 am

Senate Bill 12 would make it possible to charge Indiana librarians with a Level 6 felony, which is the criminal equivalent to auto theft and strangulation. Convictions of these types of crimes carry a sentence of up to 2.5 years in jail and fines up to $10,000. (Getty Images)

For several years I have heard ridiculous allegations that school and public libraries’ shelves are brimming with pornography and obscenity. But I think it’s clear now the censorship goes much further than that — to the detriment of society as a whole.

Concerned parents are pushing the issue too far under the guise of protecting kids from smut.

Indianapolis author John Green last week brought national attention to an ongoing attempt by the Hamilton East Public Library to move young adult books to adult sections. And while he got a reversal, hundreds of other books have been similarly mislabeled — the issue is far from over.

The turnover of four appointments last year at the Hamilton East Public Library introduced new members — including conservative hardliner and pastor Micah Beckwith — who set their sights on limiting access to books, especially in the children’s and young adult section.

In “sneaky move,” Indiana lawmakers revive contentious library materials language

The board passed a new policy that focused on profanity, violence and crime — even listing specific crimes and curse words that are unacceptable for younger readers.

The Indianapolis Star reported that the shelves of the Teen Zone were gutted as librarians and staff conducted a review of thousands of books expected to cost the library system serving Fishers and Noblesville around $300,000.

And make no mistake, reshelving materials in ill-suited library sections is censorship all on its own.

Green learned on social media that his bestseller, “The Fault in Our Stars,” had been moved to the adult section. The coming-of-age book chronicles the lives of two teens living with terminal cancer diagnoses.

Yes, there are a few curse words and the teens have sex but it is not explicit and it’s likely milder than anything teens could easily find online today.

Green called the move “ridiculous” and wrote a scathing letter to the board. Hamilton East Public Library Board President Laura Alerding blamed the removal on the library staff, whom she said misinterpreted the board’s new book relocation policy. (Alerding has since been replaced as a library board member.)

First off, the decision was made due to a policy the board passed. Blaming the librarian is a farce.

And second, what about the hundreds of other books that were moved at that location?

Books in peril 

Another example? Judy Blume’s “Forever,” which has been on teen shelves for decades, is the story of a young woman’s first love. It depicts teen sexuality in an honest and open way.

Beckwith — who is also running for Lieutenant Governor as a Republican — was asked why the book was moved to the adult section during a recent live Facebook show called Mouthwash.

“That’s the policy of the library director who put that in action,” he said, sidestepping the question. “If we moved a book accidentally, we’ll get it back in the teen section. We’re not saying move every book. We’re saying put a standard in place so that it doesn’t fall in through the cracks.”

And how about the non-fiction, young adult book “Attucks” by Phillip Hoose? It tells the true story of the all-black Indianapolis high school basketball team that broke the color barrier in segregated 1950s Indiana.

But at the Hamilton East library, teens will have to go to the adult section to find it. That’s because all young adult non-fiction was moved last year to general non-fiction after complaints from parents.

Now is the time for the library board to review its policies, which are clearly overly broad and unclear — as demonstrated by the above. And I hope other libraries in the state are watching carefully and avoid similar missteps trying to please a vocal minority.

I have no patience for any limitations on speech, and that includes books. Yes, teens have sex. Yes, racism happens. Yes, crimes occur. If parents want to hide those truths from their own children then, fine, monitor the books they check out; use parental controls on phones and televisions.

But stop taking it to the public library, where books of all stripes should be available for the general public.

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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.

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