Case Study: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, is a sort of meta “sourcebook” for the popular series of the same title. Rife with literary and popular culture mashups, the book follows League members Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain as they seek the Black Dossier, an intelligence file that covers the founding and development of the crime-fighting cabal. Excerpts from the dossier, including a map, postcards, a lost Shakespeare play, and a sequel to the 18th century pornographic novel Fanny Hill, are interspersed with the framework of story. The book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and came in second on Time’s list of the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007.

In 2009, two employees of the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky were fired after they took it upon themselves to withhold the library’s copy of Black Dossier from circulation. Sharon Cook, a full-time Library Assistant who objected to sex scenes in the book, initially followed the library’s established challenge procedure available to all patrons. She requested that the book be moved from the Graphic Novel section (which she thought was too close to Young Adult) into Adult Fiction. The committee considered her challenge and found that the book was properly shelved. In response, Cook checked the book out of the library and continued to renew it for about a year, thereby making it unavailable to members of the public. When a patron hold eventually prevented Cook from renewing the book, she used her staff privileges to determine that the requester was an 11-year-old girl. At that time Cook confided in a co-worker, part-time employee Beth Boisvert, who in turn cancelled the hold so the patron would not receive the book.

Cook and Boisvert considered the material in the Black Dossier pornographic, but the book has never met the standard for obscenity. Neither Cook nor Boisvert were librarians (despite what some sources indicate), and they superseded their authority and committed censorship in taking the actions they did. All library employees should strive to uphold the American Library Association Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights (not to mention the Bill of Rights that includes the First Amendment). Instead, Cook and Boisvert violated several tenets of both, and their actions resulted in their termination.

All six points of the Library Bill of Rights are in some way concerned with freedom of expression (which includes freedom to access information), but Cook and Boisvert most needed to be reminded of the fifth: “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”

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