Graphic Novels Pose Problems for Libraries

The Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record has an excellent article about the growing issues libraries are facing when it comes to stocking graphic novels.  The increasing popularity of the medium is forcing libraries to stock them, and with that dealing with new headaches on who can read them.  The visual nature of graphic novels (long-form comic books) is part of why they’re growing in popularity, but also is the very thing that’s causing problems.

“It’s the same thing as when libraries started stocking videos. People seem to be more sensitive to a visual representation versus the written word,” said Sherrie Antonowicz , collection development manager for the Greensboro Public Library.

Earlier this year, the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky fired two library employees after they refused to check out a graphic novel to an 11-year-old, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader .  That incident sparked a debate of whether their actions was protection of children from harmful material, outright censorship, or shielding the library from possible litigation.

The graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, which contains sexually explicit images, is the center of that controversery. Sharon Cook, one of the fired employees, checked the book out herself to keep it out of circulation and has paid a fine of 10 cents a day for her stand.  Cook, challenged the inclusion of the graphic novel in the libraries collection and when that didn’t work she decided to check it out herself, in effect removing it from circulation.

Cook’s plan ended one day when another patron requested the book, and the computer system denied her the ability to re-check it out herself.  That patron turned out to be an 11 year old girl.  This caused Cook to take her extreme actions.

On Sept. 22, Cook told two of her colleagues at the library about her dilemma, and Beth Boisvert made a decision. She would take the book off hold, thus disallowing the child — or the child’s parents — ever to see the book.

On Sept. 23, both Cook and Boisvert were fired. They were told by library director Ron Critchfield the firings were a decision of the library board.

The Greensboro libraries according to the article are dealing with that particular issue.  Antonowicz said the library did not buy The Black Dossier because it was labeled adult fiction in the publishing review material used for selecting new books.  But, the Greensboro libraries do have other titles by Alan Moore, some of which contain sexual situations, and often fall in “adult” or mature categories when it comes to comic labelling.

Greensboro often selects their purchases based on demand of their patrons with nearly all graphic novels labeled YA or young adult; those that are not, are shelved in the general book stacks. The young adult books are shelved outside of the children’s section of the library and intended for 15- to 19-year-olds.

Parents can place restrictions on their child’s library card that would prevent them from checking out some material, but not young adult books like the graphic novels. Antonowicz said the library might need to review that policy in the near future.  Patrons 15 years old or older are given adult library cards and allowed to check out anything in the library.

“It’s still up to the parent to watch what the child is reading,” Antonowicz said.

Patrons can file a formal complaint about material they find objectionable. The library will review the material and decide if it should be reclassified — moved from young adult to adult, for example — or removed from the library.

In the past 10 years , there have been four formal complaints about books. None of the books were removed from the library.

The quandary for Greensboro libraries and the incident in Kentucky raise the question of the role of libraries to protect children, walking a fine line of censorship.  The Black Dossier does not fall into the category of obscenity by law.  While the graphic novel does contain many images of varied and explicit sexual behavior, it has been the subject of academic study. It was named by Time Magazine as one of its Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007 and called “genius,” applauded for its ability to “pluck out the strange and angry and contradictory bits that underlie so much of the culture we live and think with today.”

Also keep in mind in 1973 the Supreme Court decided that obscenity could be determined by local community standards.  What may seem like censorship to me or you it’s perfectly within the right of Jessamine County or Greensboro, North Carolina citizens to determine what they want their children to have access to.

Editor’s Opinion: When it comes to any entertainment medium it is our opinion it’s the parents duty to know what their children are ingesting.  Libraries like video game consoles, or televisions have the ability for the parents to choose what their children can view.  Parental responsibility includes not just making sure your children are safe, or educated, but also what they do in their free time.  Mechanisms are in place, take the time to use them.