Seattle Area Resident Shocked at Yaoi Manga, Asks Library to Revise Circulation Policy

October 16, 2012
By

Simpsons library: Yes, we have pornography

Here’s a PSA on behalf of public librarians everywhere: If you would not drop your children off at a full-service bookstore with a credit card and tell them to go wild, then you should not send them into the library on their own to check out whatever they like. In both cases, children could easily wind up in possession of material you don’t think they’re ready for. In the latest illustration of this lesson, a Seattle area resident is upset that his unsupervised 10-year-old niece was able to check out a sexually explicit yaoi manga from the King County Library System and is asking the library to institute more restrictive circulation policies for all minors as a result.

According to B-Town Blog, Travis de Nevers’ niece, an avid reader of manga, recently went into the White Center library branch while her grandmother waited outside and checked out several books, including the boys love title Hero-Heel 2 by Makoto Tateno. A few days later, de Nevers looked through the book after noticing the publisher’s parental advisory label on the cover. Unfamiliar with yaoi manga, he reported being shocked to find images of two men having sex.

In a letter to KCLS director Bill Ptacek, de Nevers asked that the library “review your check-out practices and make the changes necessary to prevent” children from checking out books like Hero-Heel 2. However, the library already has very good policies in place — including a Parental Responsibility Policy which states:

Parents and guardians are responsible for their children’s behavior, safety and welfare while their children are in the library or on library grounds, which includes their children’s access to library materials and electronic resources.

KCLS strongly recommends that a parent, guardian or other responsible party be present to supervise children ages 12 and younger. KCLS staff is available to assist parents, guardians and their children in the use of the library; however, KCLS staff cannot act “in loco parentis” (in place of a parent) for children in the library.

KCLS holds four copies of Hero-Heel 2, all appropriately shelved in adult nonfiction, but none of them belong to the White Center branch. The barcode and location label from the cover scan that de Nevers provided to B-Town Blog show that the copy his niece checked out belongs to the Redmond branch, indicating that she may have placed a hold on it in order to have it sent to her local branch. The library’s policy makes clear that “staff is not responsible for determining whether materials used by children and teens are ‘age appropriate’” but does show a willingness to help parents or guardians take an active interest in their children’s reading:

KCLS encourages parents/guardians to talk to their children and teens about the kinds of materials they think are suitable for borrowing or accessing. If a parent/guardian wishes to limit the number of items their child or teen can check out and/or the level of filtering…assigned to their cards, they should contact a staff member to have the child or teen’s library card appropriately blocked.

As CBLDF readers are aware, comics, graphic novels, and manga often face challenges from those who think any book with lots of pictures must be for children. That certainly seems to be the case here, as de Nevers expresses surprise that “an anime comic book section is where people go to read porn.” While Hero-Heel 2 likely doesn’t qualify as pornography by a strict definition, it is definitely intended for adults, who make up a large part of any library’s patron base. Modern public libraries build their collections with a wide variety of ages, tastes, cultures, and interests in mind. There may be indeed be materials in those collections that some parents do not want their children to access, but the responsibility for setting those boundaries lies with the parents, not the libraries.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.