Statement on County Resolution to Restrict Access to Library Materials

Statement on County Resolution to Restrict Access to Library Materials

The county board resolution to restrict access to adult level reading material in public libraries is unnecessary and misleading. In Kenosha County, municipalities have authority over the administration of public libraries including decisions over library collections. Authority does not reside with the county government. The authors of the resolution before you are aware of this distinction and have chosen to bring this matter before you today in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of a trusted and beloved democratic institution, your public library. At least one member of the committee has indicated to me, however, that he voted in the affirmative at committee level to bring the matter to the level of public conversation. So let us have a conversation, but let us base that conversation in fact.

  1. There are no pornographic materials in public libraries.
  2. There are no materials in public libraries that could be legally described as obscene.
  3. Professional librarians do not base purchase decisions on their personal viewpoints. Purchase decisions and decisions on shelving locations within the library are based on professional reviews by educators and librarians.
  4. The term “adult” in public libraries refers to a reading and interest level higher than 6th grade. It does not refer to salacious content.
  5. Library materials are organized into separate sections for children and adults based on reading level, interest, and sophistication of the ideas presented. No five year old would be interested in or able to read and understand a 300 page work on the history of the conflict in Gaza. Many children under the age of 18 would, however, be both interested and able to understand the text. Restriction to this material makes no sense.
  6. “Adult” collections include advanced books on every subject, including science, math, engineering, art, history, and philosophy. These books include a broad and inclusive section on religion that includes many versions of the Bible.
  7. “Adult” collections include classic literature like The Great Gatsby, Beowulf, and the works of Shakespeare, books that are thoroughly studied in our schools by children under 18. Families without the means to purchase these books rely on the public library to provide copies for school use.
  8. Children under the age of 16 must have a parent’s signature to get a library card of their own.
  9. Parents already have broad rights to control what their children read and view. State statutes give parents the right to know what a child under 16 has checked out from the public library. They can check their child’s account online or by calling the library. Many families opt for a shared family account to make this oversight even easier.
  10. Every public library has a formal  process in place to accept requests for reconsideration of library materials from the public. Community members have the right to challenge any book’s place in the library through a formal process that includes Library Board review.

The Kenosha Public Library is dedicated to supporting the healthy educational development of children. We can debate the merits of any particular book as a community and never reach consensus, but one thing we can all agree on is this:

In the United States, the government does not determine what a person can read. That decision is an individual decision, and for minor children, the decision belongs to the child’s parents. That is the definition of liberty.

 Barbara Brattin, Director, Kenosha Public Library

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