Late last year, after several months of deliberation, Alan Moore’s graphic novel Neonomicon was removed from the Greenville County, South Carolina, public library system based on a unilateral decision by library director Beverly James. The ban went against a recommendation from the library’s own content review committee, as well as a letter of protest from CBLDF and other intellectual freedom organizations. Now, in a new article from local paper The Greenville News, James is attempting to justify her action as one that was made only after careful consideration, despite her personal view that the book is “disgusting.”
Neonomicon, a Lovecraftian horror story that won the Bram Stoker Award, was challenged in June 2012 by Carrie Gaske after her 14-year-old daughter checked it out from the adult section of the library. Gaske says that she did look through the book before allowing her daughter to read it, but “[i]t looked to me like a murder mystery comic book; to me, that’s a child’s book.” After her daughter asked her to explain an unfamiliar word, Gaske took another look and found that it contained rape, violence, and racism. She asked that the book be removed from the collection, and a review committee was formed to consider the challenge. After all members had read the book in full and considered its award status and Moore’s reputation as a quality author, they recommended that it remain in the library.
Director James, however, took a different view:
‘It was disgusting,’ she said, declining to label it obscene or pornographic.
She acknowledged the library has many books that deal in such detail with the very same subject matter — racism, rape, murder, sex — but for her, the pictures gave her pause.
Her decision to pull the book was the first time she had overruled her staff’s recommendation and the fifth time she had removed material from the library after a complaint.
‘I call it de-selection,’ she said.
James is welcome to call it whatever she likes, but what most librarians call de-selection — informally known as “weeding” — is the removal of materials that are outdated, worn, or damaged or that have not circulated much. This is obviously necessary to free up space for new items and to keep collections relevant, but the American Library Association’s interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights specifically states that “[t]his procedure is not to be used as a convenient means to remove materials that might be viewed as controversial or objectionable.”
James’ decision also appears to contradict her own library’s collection development policy, which says:
[P]arents and legal guardians have the responsibility for their children’s use of library materials and are encouraged to define what material or information is consistent with their personal and family beliefs; only they can apply those values for themselves and their children.
By removing the book, James has instead allowed one parent to dictate what all adult patrons of the Greenville County Library System may access. Additionally, a graphic novel has once again been damned by its format alone, as James admits that the illustrations were the deciding factor.
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Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.