Tuesday, March 14, 2006

ACTION ALERT! Target: Oklahoma Legislature

AS IF! recently received this email from a librarian in Oklahoma on the front lines of a censorship battle. She can explain the situation better than I:

Dear Brent Hartinger:

I am a Young Adult Librarian at a branch in the Tulsa City-County Library System in Oklahoma. Last night I read your post on ASIF about the decrease in book challenges shortly after I had to move our copy of Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” from our Teen Center (which contains all YA fiction and non-fiction) to Adult Fiction. The reclassification of this book is directly related to the proposed Oklahoma House Bill 2158 that you mentioned in your post (and THANK YOU for mentioning it). While I’m glad the book will remain in circulation, I was sad to remove it from the YA collection. My fear is that I will have to move your books, David Levithan’s books, Chris Crutcher’s books, Francesca Lia Block’s books, Laurie Halse Anderson’s books, and other popular and well-written books by many more YA authors who mention sex, sexuality, language, drug use, the name “Dick,” or whatever-you-can-think-of. Our YA collection will end up having no diversity whatsoever.

At first glance House Bill 2158 seems to be a simple bill which protects our children. This bill, however, has serious, long-lasting and possibly fatal ramifications for our libraries. The heart of House Bill 2158 is prejudice and censorship. It requires the segregation of library materials for children and young adults which have homosexual or sexually explicit content. It prohibits any person under age 18 from borrowing these materials, and non-compliance forces a public library to close its doors. The bill went through committee this week in Oklahoma City, and it is set to go before the OK House of Representatives for a vote next week! If it becomes law, it impacts the livelihood of all library employees, and it will have serious ramifications for public libraries in the state of Oklahoma. Our library system is on high alert, and we are in the midst of educating our customers about this legislation.

Tulsa’s Library Commission voted on Feb. 16 to “adamantly oppose” HB 2158 as part of its annual legislative plan. The following is a statement released yesterday by William C. Kellough, Chairman of the Tulsa City-County Library Commission:

“The public library distributes books and other media which are broadly representative of human thought. In a diverse, pluralistic democracy not everyone will believe or like what they read. Library materials are representative of all social, political, religious and cultural points of views. Homosexuality is a reality. What would prevent other topics of reality from becoming off limits to young people who are free citizens entitled to free exercise of speech and thought?"

Thank you for your time spent reading this, thank you for helping us get the word out, and, more importantly, thank you for your books!


Amanda Kuhns

TCCL-Zarrow Regional Library
2224 West 51st Street
Tulsa, OK 74107

AS IF! responded with a request to know exactly how we can help. Here's how Ms. Kuhns responded:

Dear Mr. Hartinger,

Thank you so much for the kind support! I especially appreciate your consideration as to how AS IF! can help us fight this bill. I shared your email with my library manager and our administration so that we could come up with ideas, and it seems that the best route to take at this point would be to arm you with more ammunition for a letter-writing campaign. I’ve included the names and emails of some state reps who may be “on the fence” on this issue and who really need to hear from more people who are opposed to the bill. Our hope is that the more pressure the House members get (from in state and out of state alike) the more likely they are to realize not only how much opposition this bill has, but also how shameful it is and, too, how truly embarrassing it would be to get wide exposure on a national level if it passes as law. I have also included below two editorials from the two major newspapers in the state -- The Daily Oklahoman in OKC, and the Tulsa World – in case anyone would like to use pieces for citing. I LOVE the idea of taking out an ad in the paper! But… the ad may be the big gun we need later to kill the nasty bill if it passes this Friday. (There would be a four to six week period when it would go again into committee before going to the Senate.)

This is so insanely wrong. I am going to read some ”illicit” material now to help me relax.

Thank you again, Mr. Hartinger – You may use what you like in the blogs.


Amanda Kuhns

Oklahoma House of Representatives members

Chris Benge: chrisbenge@okhouse.gov district 68 R

Darrell Gilbert: darrellgilbert@okhouse.gov district 72 D

Todd Hiett: toddhiett@okhouse.gov district 29 R

Lucky Lamons: luckylamons@okhouse.gov district 66 D

Mark Liotta: markliotta@okhouse.gov district 77 R

Mike Mass: mikemass@okhouse.gov district 17 D

Jeannie McDaniel: jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov district 78 D

Jabar Shumate: jabarshumate@okhouse.gov district 73 D

Opio Toure: opiotoure@okhouse.gov district 99 D

John Trebilcock: johntrebilcock@okhouse.gov district 98 R

Okay, folks, you know what to do! Remember: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so be respectful, but passionate. This is especially important if you live in Oklahoma, or know people who do!

For inspiration, Ms. Kuhns also sent the editorials from the local newspapers

DAILY OKLAHOMAN (Oklahoma City newspaper) Editorial

March 10, 2006

Don't legislate library book access

A BILL that could strip public libraries of state funding if they fail to cater to a legislative whim deserves to end up in the trash can, not the law books.

House Bill 2158 would require libraries to place any books with homosexuality or "sexually explicit" subject matter in a separate area of the library available only to adults. Libraries wanting state funding must provide documentation of their compliance and a copy of their adults-only distribution policy.

The bill passed a House committee Wednesday and now awaits a vote from the full House. We urge House members to defeat the bill.

We find it ironic that the bill said each policy should "reflect the contemporary community standard of the community the library is located in." In putting the bill on a path to becoming law, lawmakers are taking away such local control and substituting it with their judgment. It's not the Legislature's job to tell libraries which books to stock and where to put them. Local library boards are capable of making decisions on whether restricted access is necessary.

Last month, the governing board of Oklahoma County libraries approved a proposal to create a special "parenting collection" of children's books on a variety of issues, including homosexuality and sexually themed material. While the issue was contentious, board members listened to community input and gave it thoughtful debate before deciding.

That's the kind of decision-making process appropriate for a library. While we appreciate attempts to shield children from subjects they may not understand or be ready for, that's a parent's job. For lawmakers to usurp that role is bad public policy.

This isn't the first time this session where we've argued that the Legislature needs to keep its hands off. Sometimes, the best action the Legislature can take is none at all. This issue is a perfect example.


Book binding
By World's Editorial Writers

Censorship aimed at libraries in bill

A bill that would require sexually explicit books to be kept away from children and young adults in public libraries has been passed by a state House of Representatives committee.

If libraries failed to comply, they would be prohibited from using any money, either from the state or locally, to operate.

The full House should reject this bill. It is being pushed by Republican legislators who hope to trade on the statewide anti-homosexual sentiment. If enacted into law, it would, at worst, wreck the Tulsa City-County Library and, at best, force censorship.

HB 2158, proposed by State Rep. Betty Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was passed by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. Under legislative rules, bills must be reported out of the two houses by March 17.

The bill is grossly impractical, aside from its implications for censorship. Children should be protected, of course, but even here there are occasional children's books that religious zealots complain push homosexuality.

The language of the bill uses "young adults." The libraries, of course, would have to define "young adults." How? How does a librarian decide the age or maturity of a telephone caller?

One can readily think of a long list of books that touch on homosexuality and an even longer list of books with "sexually explicit" material.

To make the point, the Bible itself would be kept out of the hands of "young adults" because it contains some of the rawest sexual episodes imaginable as well as passages of the world's greatest literature.

Or, how about the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Michelangelo's famous painting does depict naked men!

The dirty little secret is that this bill is another "redneck re-election" effort. Its authors know it will play well to unthinking voters who voted overwhelmingly for a "marriage" amendment aimed at homosexuals.

Republicans are gung-ho for such bills and Democrats are so cowed by a backward electorate that they are afraid to oppose such ridiculous ideas as censorship of libraries.

Bill Kellough, the chairman of the TCCL commission, said:

"In a diverse, pluralistic democracy not everyone will believe or like what they read. Library materials are representative of all social, political, religious and cultural points of view. Homosexuality is a reality. What would prevent other topics of reality from becoming off limits to young people who are free citizens entitled to free exercise of speech and thought?"


The full commission had earlier voted to "adamantly oppose" HB 2158. The commission is right. This bill ought to be stopped.


Blogger Ruth Wiens said...

Can any one deny or verify the claims of HB 2158's author, Mrs. Kern, that similar legislation has been passed in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri and/or Texas?

Also, can anyone deny or verify that Louisiana defeated similar legislation? If so, are there any editorials, etc. out there?

This would be a get help.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Jordan Sonnenblick said...

I just fired off a strong letter against the bill on behalf of AS IF! to all of the representatives and the Daily Oklahoman.

Felt good, too . . .


3:34 PM  

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