As each year begins, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression “awards” individuals and organizations around the country with Jefferson Muzzles “as a means to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment.”
The 2011 Muzzles have been awarded, and recipients include the Obama Administration, BP, the TSA, and more, but one recipient in particular ties in with CBLDF’s work to protect books and comics in libraries. From the Jefferson Center:
For failing to insist that the library’s official policy be implemented, as well as for appearing to set a precedent that any disgruntled community member can trigger the removal of controversial materials from the entire library system, we bestow upon the public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.
Gail Sweet, the director of the Burlington County Library System, received the dubious honor of a Muzzle because she unilaterally pulled a book from shelves after receiving one complaint about its content. The book’s removal was in violation of library policy, which requires review of complaints by a committee of staff members before a book is taken from shelves. The book in question was a collection of essays written by LGBT youth called Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology. Upon receiving the complaint, Sweet immediately pulled the book from shelves, labeling it child pornography and making it unavailable to all patrons.
Graphic novels and comic books are frequently targeted by members of the community. Even popular and critically acclaimed works aren’t safe — CBLDF has worked to protect books such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and more from challenges. When people such as Sweet pull books from library shelves, it casts an alarming pall on all libraries and our freedom of expression. The Muzzles call attention to such acts, reminding us we need to remain vigilant to protect the First Amendment.