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Book banning dilemma

News editor

No book in recent years stirred more controversy than the 2011 racy romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the steamy bestseller that was at one time banned from library shelves in Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin.

Patrons of Marion and Hillsboro city libraries can get the book, but how they go about doing so is different.

Hillsboro readers can find the book on Hillsboro Public Library’s shelves, library director Cathleen Fish said.

“That was one we got due to patrons asking,” Fish said. “We limited it to age 21. We have people into their 80s reading that book, and not one person wanted it banned from our library.”

Fish has set up a display in the library recognizing “Banned Books Week,” an event which draws attention to the issue of censorship.

“We follow the policy of the American Library Association,” Fish said. “Everyone has the freedom to read. No one is ever forced to read.”

Janet Marler, librarian for Marion City Library, chose not to stock the controversial book.

“We did not get that book, and we have no intention of getting it,” she said. “I tend to stay away from books that might cause conflict.”

But Marler also believes in the freedom to read philosophy, and said the book is available to Marion patrons through interlibrary loan.

“We can always borrow books from another library in Kansas, so they have the opportunity,” she said.

Local readers haven’t put up much fuss about the books the libraries stock.

“I’ve been here 22 years, and I’ve had three serious ban requests in that time,” Fish said. “Our latest one was probably six or seven years ago. We’ve not ever banned a book.”

No books have been banned in Marion, either, Marler said.

“We can’t censor, so that gives us defense right off the bat,” she said.

Fish said of the complaints she’s received the most have been from people who have questioned something in books for children and teens. While she hasn’t taken any books out of the collection, some titles are shelved in places other than the youth section.

“Some of the youth fiction titles I have to be careful and place them in the adult category because we have young readers that read way above their level,” Fish said. “Maybe the subject matter isn’t appropriate for a fifth grader who is reading at a 12th grade level.”

Children are subjected to far more questionable material through technology than through the library, Fish said.

“Children have cell phones and unlimited access to the Internet, and those are far more to be concerned about than books,” she said.

Marler said the evolution of television and Internet content has had another effect on library acquisitions — books that once might have caused a stir no longer do.

“It’s not such a shock anymore as it used to be,” she said.

With limited budgets for acquisitions, both libraries evaluate potential additions for how they complement current holdings, as well as for potential readership.

For readers who feel strongly opposed to a particular title, both libraries have formal complaint procedures that lead to formal hearings by their governing boards.

Patrons who aren’t familiar with certain books or genres should ask a librarian for more information, Marler said, so that they can make informed choices.

“If they think they’re not going to like it, I suggest they don’t read it in the first place,” she said.

Last modified Sept. 30, 2015

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