- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The censorship of books is one of those once-a-year topics, and its annual moment is at hand. This week is Banned Books Week, a nationwide promotion by the American Library Association that draws attention to such censorship and condemns it.

But campaigns to get rid of a book, or a video, are mounted year-round - and more often than you might expect. At the Indianapolis Public Library they emerge about once a quarter, often enough that there is a protocol.

When a flap occurs at the library, the matter becomes the responsibility of Deb Lambert, director of collection management. Lambert, 50, a wife, mother of two and devotee of the novelists Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy, is in her third decade as a librarian. She joined the Indianapolis Public Library in 2012 after having a similar job in Florida.

Once a book or video has given offense and a complaint, called a “reconsideration form,” has been filed, Lambert swings into gear. First she looks to see if the work has been reviewed. A story about it in, say, The New York Times gives a thing credibility.

She also investigates how many times the work has been checked out of the library. “If it’s been used by a lot of people in the past who didn’t have a complaint about it, we know there’s an audience for it,” she says.

She then reads the book or watches the video in question.

She does the reading or watching on her own time, so getting back to the outraged library patron usually takes six weeks. In Lambert’s three years at the library not once has she pulled a book or video from the shelves, though once she relocated a book from the juvenile section to the teen section.

The book was “Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind,” Suzanne Fisher Staples’ acclaimed novel about a heroic Pakistani girl. (“Staples has accomplished a small miracle in her touching and powerful story,” The New York Times said.)

One time on Lambert’s watch a disagreement over a book made the news. The book, “Night Games,” was about a centuries-old (but super well-preserved) female elf with a sex drive and a penchant for a certain male human. In July 2013 a 9-year-old boy checked out the book, and a short time later his grandmother looked it over and was dismayed. She filled out a reconsideration form.

Enter Lambert. She searched library records and found “Night Games” had been checked out several dozen times with no complaints. “Erotic fiction is one of our most popular genres,” she says.

And how: As of late September patrons have checked out the library’s 71 copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” more than 7,100 times, about 2,000 more checkouts than John Green’s blockbuster “The Fault in Our Stars.” Four years after “Fifty Shades” was released, every copy is checked out. Seven people are on the waiting list.

Following library protocol, Lambert read “Night Games.” She cringed at its pulpiness but ruled that it was not unsuitable. She informed the grandmother of her decision via a letter.

“Is this the most interesting part of my job?” Lambert asks. “Well, no, but I feel it’s an important responsibility for us to explain our policy to patrons.”

At its heart the policy holds that: “Only parents or legal guardians have the authority and responsibility to decide the reading, viewing or listening use of library materials for their own minor children.”

The policy also states that “material that illuminates some issue or aspect of life will not be excluded because its language or subject matter may be offensive to some patrons.”

“Material is judged for its strength and value as a whole and not in part.”

The grandmother was not pleased that “Night Games” had passed muster, and she vented to a local TV station. A small firestorm ensued. “The story was picked up by the Huffington Post and CNN,” Lambert recalls.

Lambert and the library stuck to their guns, however, and “Night Games” stayed on the shelves, all seven copies, and in the wake of the rhubarb enjoyed a minor spike in circulation.

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Source: The Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/1FDqXS9

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com


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