Saturday, August 14, 2010

letter to a patron

A Colorado Librarian, back in 2008, wrote to a patron who wanted the children's book Uncle Bobby's Wedding to be removed from the Children's section. I am including here a few excerpts from the letter that he wrote in response to the patron's request because I believe he has a great way of explaining the situation and the responsibilities of libraries.

Here's what I understand to be your concern, based on your writings. First, you believe that “the book is specifically designed to normalize gay marriage and is targeted toward the 2-7 year old age group.” Your second key concern is that you “find it inappropriate that this type of literature is available to this age group.” You cite your discussion with your daughter, and commented, “This was not the type of conversation I thought I would be having with my seven year old in the nightly bedtime routine.”

First, I think you're right that the purpose of the book is to show a central event, the wedding of two male characters, as no big thing. The emotional center of the story, of course, is Chloe's fear that she's losing a favorite uncle to another relationship. That fear, I think, is real enough to be an issue for a lot of young children. But yes, Sarah Brannen clearly was trying to portray gay marriage as normal, as not nearly so important as the changing relationship between a young person and her favorite uncle.

You feel that a book about gay marriage is inappropriate for young children. But another book in our collection, “Daddy's Roommate,” was requested by a mother whose husband left her, and their young son, for another man. She was looking for a way to begin talking about this with son. Another book, “Alfie's Home,” was purchased at the request of another mother looking for a way to talk about the suspected homosexuality of her young son from a Christian perspective. There are gay parents in Douglas County, right now, who also pay taxes, and also look for materials to support their views. We don't have very many books on this topic, but we do have a handful.
In short, most of the books we have are designed not to interfere with parents' notions of how to raise their children, but to support them. But not every parent is looking for the same thing.

Your third point, about the founders' vision of America, is something that has been a matter of keen interest to me most of my adult life. In fact, I even wrote a book about it, where I went back and read the founders' early writings about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What a fascinating time to be alive! What astonishing minds! Here's what I learned: our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them. The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified.

How then, can we claim that the founders would support the restriction of access to a book that really is just about an idea, to be accepted or rejected as you choose? What harm has this book done to anyone? Your seven year old told you, “Boys are not supposed to marry.” In other words, you have taught her your values, and those values have taken hold. That's what parents are supposed to do, and clearly, exposure to this book, or several, doesn't just overthrow that parental influence. It does, of course, provide evidence that not everybody agrees with each other; but that's true, isn't it?

Finally, then, I conclude that “Uncle Bobby's Wedding” is a children's book, appropriately categorized and shelved in our children's picture book area. I fully appreciate that you, and some of your friends, strongly disagree with its viewpoint. But if the library is doing its job, there are lots of books in our collection that people won't agree with; there are certainly many that I object to. Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life.

If you wish to read the entire letter, you can find it here.

What do you think of his response? Do you agree with the way he handled the complaint?


  1. I think it is a great response. Library would be pretty crappy if ever book that offend someone was removed.

  2. I remember reading this letter on his site a couple years back. I love his response and appreciate the time and consideration he put into the parent's request.

  3. Really excellent response. I can't tell you how many books on my shelves offend me on a daily basis, but I want mt lil kitties to have access to all ideas. Even terribly stupid ones that have been completely disproven.

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