Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books

Library Journal put up a quick article about the Topeka Library Board’s decision from yesterday to restrict access to four books with sexual themes. I was following most of the meeting, in realtime with photos by keeping an eye on David Lee King’s twitter feed (starting about here) as I was in my all day meeting. Here’s the brief story from the AP Wire. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this story.

One lawyer at the meeting told the newspaper he had already been approached by potential plaintiffs. “Because it would take these books off the shelves and place them out of reach of patrons browsing the shelves, the proposed policy is unconstitutional,” warned the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri in a letter to the board.

7 thoughts on “Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books

  1. Well, that’s interesting. My natural reaction to the decision is “well, that’s entirely uncalled for”, but I’m not sure I like the ACLU argument either. For Pete’s sake, a *HUGE* portion of the Boston Public Library’s collections are not browsable by patrons. They are in closed stacks. Mind you, many of the titles that are there shouldn’t be, but still. How are unbrowsable items unconstitutional by definition?

  2. Are they going to hide EVERY SINGLE biology book that covers sex under the desk too? I mean, where do you stop. And what about the Bible? It has incest and sex, but that’s ok of course.

  3. Scot- I am curious about your comments on the Boston Public library’s collection. What do you mean by “closed” and not “browsable”.

    Clarie-The books in question were restricted because the majority of the local board believed the books met the definition of “harmful to minors” under Kansas statute. Now you may or may not know that these statutes use local community standards. What you also may not be aware of is that in Kansas public libraries were given special protection from prosecution for making this type of material available. That special protection did not require a library to provide such material neither did it prohibit it from restricting access. If libraries are not carrying “harmful to minors” material, why would they need special protection. I think it is quite clear that they are carrying it. If that is true, why should the local library have protection against prosecution when the local tax payer is not afforded the same type of protection. I have a tough time when the government has a different standard than its citizenry. Every adult can still access this material and every parent who wants their child to access this material can check it out for them. This group merely asked the library board to error on the side that parents don’t know.

    Regarding your question about biology books, I have a degree in Biology from the University of Kansas and my husband is a primary care physician. When you can’t tell the difference between an anatomy textbook(biology) and a “how to” sex guide for adults you only make yourself appear foolish or ignorant. I don’t believe you are either one so come up with a better argument than the slippery slope mantra.

  4. Like Scot, I’m not sure I understand the case for unconstitutionality given that the books would still be available — i.e., they would not be removed from the collection. Perhaps it is a matter of the stigma created when adults have to ask for a staff member to get the book for them — ‘Can I have the _Joy of Gay Sex_ please?’–It becomes a matter of privacy. The case could be made that an atmosphere of religious condemnation of such materials would be created by restricting them, in effect infringing on the religious freedom of those who wish to check them out(?). Understand, I’m not making that case — but it could be made. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know how much weight that would carry in a federal court. I’m sure stranger arguments have been made.

    What is much clearer to me is the impossible situation the library staff may be put in by the begged question of what other books would rightfully belong in this newly created category. Granted, the example of anatomy texts is a case of hyperbole, but that doesn’t invalidate the slippery slope argument. According to the director of the Topeka Library, as the LJ piece states, ‘the library has 600-plus books with subject headings relating to sex, sex instruction, sexual behavior, and fertility.’ How is one to know what is harmful to minors and what it not? It sounds as though all of them should go behind the counter according to their standards. But who should decide? Librarians get asked to do the dirty work. ‘The board left the decision on how to restrict access to the books to the library staff.’ …and to wonder why no one is worried about the romance novels! (some of which are more explicitly prurient than R-rated movies)

    In my opinion it would be more harmful to create the atmosphere of moral condemnation of all things sexual that would probably result from their proposal, than it would be to allow (unadvertised!) access to well-reviewed, popular books about safe and loving sex to minors in today’s world. The last line of the Topeka Capital-Journal article is not without relevance here I think (in reference to the books in question):
    “They are all checked out right now,” he said. “There are waiting lists on all of them. At this point in time, we just need to wait for them to be returned.”

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