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Denogean: Thought police can’t get past noble librarians

Helen Gutierrez (left), librarian and adult selector; Richard DiRusso, manager of the Collection Development Office; and Ann Dickinson, librarian and children's selector, show challenged books at the Main Library's banned-book exhibit.

Helen Gutierrez (left), librarian and adult selector; Richard DiRusso, manager of the Collection Development Office; and Ann Dickinson, librarian and children's selector, show challenged books at the Main Library's banned-book exhibit.

The busybodies who like to control what other people do – this time, what people read, see or hear – are at it again.

The good news is, they’re unlikely to succeed.

The Chandler Public Library system is reviewing challenges to four items on its shelves – the sometimes vulgar Phoenix New Times, an audio book by the notoriously vulgar comedian George Carlin, a children’s sexual education book featuring swimming sperm and titled “Where Willy Went” and a DVD called “The Faerie Tale Theater.”

Complaining patrons want the first two removed from the shelves and the latter two either restricted to adults or reclassified as adult materials.

The Pima County Public Library, which happens to be marking “Banned Book Week” at branches, receives about a dozen challenges a year, said Richard DiRusso, manager of the Collection Development Office.

Brenda Brown, manager of the Chandler system, which has four branches, said the library advisory board reviews every challenge as a policy but hasn’t removed or reclassified a single item during her three years as manager. The case to do so would have be extraordinarily persuasive, she said.

“We have heard back from a large number of people in the community and the consensus seems to be that censorship is not supported in Chandler,” she said.

The board will render its decisions Nov. 15.

Though this episode made news in the Phoenix area, challenges to materials in public and school libraries are commonplace nationwide.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom collected reports of 3,019 challenges nationwide from 2000 through 2005 and 6,364 from 1991 though 1999.

For every challenge reported to it, the office estimates another four to five are not reported.

The Pima County library has a nice phrase and form for people seeking to ban a book or other item from its shelves. It’s called a “request for reconsideration of material.”

DiRusso’s Collection Development Office reviews the challenges and sends a written response to the patron. So far in 2007, there have been six challenges.

One patron wanted the library to get rid of “The Menopause Bible: The Complete Practical Guide to Managing Your Menopause,” by Dr. Robin N. Phillips, on the grounds that it includes “pornographic material.” She was concerned children might see it.

Librarian Helen Gutierrez wrote back that the book is considered an excellent reference book by The Journal of the National Medical Association.

What she didn’t say is that the library doesn’t remove books with adult content just because children might see them. The libraries are for people of all ages and interests.

Another patron took great offense to “Come and See,” a 1985 Soviet film on DVD depicting the horrors of World War II.

It’s “horrendous” and “violent,” the patron wrote. “I can’t imagine this film doing anybody any good. It would likely take the cake for producing nightmares or ‘horror freaks.’

“Get rid of it fast,” the patron urged.

The film, DiRusso wrote in response, “won the 1985 International Film Critics FIPRESCI Prize to promote film art and the Moscow International Film Festival’s Grand Prize. One reviewer declared it ‘one of the greatest of all war films.’ ”

One patron who apparently wanted a little spice in her life got more than she expected when she checked out “Hidden Agendas” by Lora Leigh.

Three hundred pages of pornography, she complained. “Burn this book.”

You mean like the Nazis used to do?

DiRusso was gentler in his answer. He wrote that the book isn’t to everybody’s taste but that many people have checked it out. He noted that the book’s back cover contains a reviewer’s description of the book: “Leigh’s pages explode with a hot mixture of erotic pleasures.”

I’ll add that the book is clearly a modern-day bodice-ripper. The cover picture is of a woman leading around a shirtless, well-muscled man by the dog tag around his neck.

Geesh. If you don’t want to read smut, don’t check out books that are clearly smutty.

DiRusso couldn’t recall a successful challenge but he doesn’t take offense at them. He believes patrons are sincere about wanting to protect others from what they see as damaging material.

I do take offense. Well-intentioned or not, their belief that they should regulate what you or I can read is fascist.

One Tucson patron who filed a complaint this year wanted the entire adult fiction section of the Wilmot branch removed and replaced with books “without all that evil stuff in them.”

“I have a problem with the wide selection of occult books and pornographic materials that are available in your library,” the patron wrote.

Apparently, I’ve been visiting the wrong branch.

Who knew all the good stuff is at Wilmot?

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.



The 100 most challenged books of the last decade: www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwlinks/100mostfrequently.htm

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