Vandal Destroys PA Library Book Because of Bad Words

Lakeside Cottage CoverA copy of Susan Wigg’s summer romance Lakeside Cottage was returned to the Mifflin County Library in Lewistown Pennsylvania after some anonymous editor had crossed out all the bad words in the entire book with a Sharpie. Library Director Molly Kinney was frustrated with the coward’s decision to vandalise the book instead of opening up a dialogue with Kinney and her staff and furious that a book had been ruined. She took recourse in the best way she knew how, with an open letter to the person responsible in the local paper.

On January 5th in the Lewistown Sentinel Kinney wrote

I am furious that YOU think you have the right to deface property that belongs to all county residents. Now we are forced to spend money to replace the book you destroyed…Did you not realize that a permanent marker would bleed through the page and black out not only the swear word but also the word on the other side of the page? This just adds insult to injury, buddy.

If you have an objection to a book, come talk to me. We have a formal procedure to address your concern. But no, you couldn’t be bothered to do that and took it upon yourself to police everyone’s reading habits with your self-appointed, sanctimonious judgement.

You could have just stopped reading the book if it offended you. No one can force you to read anything you don’t want to read, or that you disagree with. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.”

Ruining the one book in no way ruins access to the book. As Kinney points out in her column, Lakeside Cottage which had a print run of well over a million, is still available in ebook format, in audiobook format, and will be replaced shortly. In fact all the censor did was increase the sales of a book they had a problem with by at least one.

Kinney mentions that there are rules and proceedures for handling a challenge at Mifflin County Library, even though this vandal didn’t avail him/herself of them. In many CBLDF publications and throughout the website, it is set out that the best way to help when books are challenged is to have a strong set of guidelines in place so that the entire staff knows how to proceed.

Library Director Molly Kinney was kind enough to take time out of her busy day to chat with CBLDF about the recent situation she wrote about in her column. When we asked if incidents like this were common at Mifflin County Library, she replied, “No, not quite like this. On occasion we have folks write in a book (usually correcting the grammar) but this time the book was completely unreadable.” It is good to know that most of Lewistown, PA is more concerned with an errant comma than a curcurse word.

Even though there are rules and guidelines in place for handling a challenge, we asked if Director Kinney had any advice to offer from her experience as a librarian and Library Director.

“Most folks don’t really want to go through the ‘formal’ process and just want to vent and express their opinion. If one takes a little time to listen, without arguing or disagreeing with their opinion it usually turns out they really just wanted someone to listen. If that strategy doesn’t have to desired result, I do insist the person must follow the policy/procedure/process so we are consistent with everyone in the community.”

And just what is that policy/proceedure/process?

  • Policy:
    • Whenever any patron objects to the presence or absence of any library
      material, the objection will be evaluated according to established rules and
  • Rules:
    • The complainant must have a valid Mifflin County Library card before this
      complaint will be considered.
    • The Library Director will be responsible for coordinating the complaint
    • The Library Board of Trustees is the final Board of Appeal in reference to the
      selection of library materials.
    • Materials subject to complaint shall not be removed from use pending final
      action in the matter.
  • Procedure:
    1. Complaints to staff members will be referred to the Library Director who
      will discuss the matter with the complainant. The library staff member
      may provide the complainant with a copy of the “Request for
      Reconsideration of Library Materials” form if the complainant prefers to
      begin the process with that step. The complaint process would then move
      to Step 3.
    2. If not satisfied, the complainant may fill out a “Request for
      Reconsideration of Library Materials” form. Both sides of the form must
      be completed and the form must be signed by the complainant before the
      matter will be considered further.
    3. The Library Director will examine the item in question. If it is a request for
      withdrawal, he/she will check reviews, and determine whether the item
      conforms to the standards of materials selection policy. The Director may
      consult with other library staff when he/she feels it is appropriate.
    4. If it is a request to add an item that has not been included in the
      library’s collection, the librarian will check reviews, budget status, and
      whether the item conforms to the standards of the materials selection
      policy. The Director may consult with other library staff when he/she feels
      it is appropriate.
    5. The Library Director will make a decision and will write to complainant
      within one month of receiving the written complaint giving the reasons for
      the decision.
    6. If the complainant is still not satisfied, he/she may appeal to the Library
      Board of Trustees and present his/her opinion at a regular monthly meeting
      of the Board.

As they say, the best offense is a strong defense. Setting up clear and consicise proceedures and policies protect everyone’s freedom to read, with the very rare exception of individuals taking it upone themselves to ruin books with markers because they don’t like the language used in the text. Director Kinney finished up by saying, “What was particularly upsetting about this incident was the person didn’t check the book out…and returned it to the book drop so there was no way to determine who caused the damage.”

Still, they plan to reorder the book which has circulated well since its release. Please read the full column from Library Director Molly Kinney, it is funny and thoughtful and delves into the importance librarians place on the freedom of information.