Robot 6

Library director refuses to restrict access to yaoi manga

Occasionally we see public clashes between the mandate of public libraries to serve everyone without restricting access to books and the desire of parents and caregivers to keep children from seeing sexually explicit material they aren’t ready for.

The most recent incident involves a 10-year-old girl who checked out a stack of manga that included the second volume of Makoto Tateno’s Hero Heel from the White Center Library, just south of Seattle. The book had a parental advisory mark on the front cover (applied by the publisher, not the library) and was rated 18+ (again, by the publisher) on the back cover, but there was no family member watching what the girl checked out; her grandmother dropped her off at the library and waited in the car until she came out with her books. Her uncle, Travis De Nevers, found the book after she brought it home and wrote to the library, saying:

How can it be that a young girl can check-out this book? Why would it even be located in a place where children would have easy access to it? It was by chance that I happened to pick up the book from a pile of her library books and noticed the label.

I do not want this to happen again to my niece or other children. I am asking that you review your check-out practices and make the changes necessary to prevent it. Please send me a response detailing your steps to correct this serious situation.

(Note: The linked post includes fuzzy but NSFW scans from the book.)

“I don’t think he was objecting to us having it so much as how we are protecting kids her age from encountering things that might be difficult,” Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, said in an interview with Robot 6. “Our response was, we are not in the business of policing what anybody gets. We adhere strongly to the idea of free and open access; we do expect either parents or caregivers to be actively engaged and be sure they are comfortable [with their children's choices].”

“Kids may be in a tough situation, and what they are trying to do is get information or come to grips with what they are dealing with, and it isn’t anybody’s business what they get in the library,” he added.

And in fact, the girl in question probably didn’t have “easy access” to the book, in the sense of just running across it by chance while browsing the shelves: According to the KCLS catalog, the White County Library doesn’t have a copy of Hero Heel 2 on its shelves, so the book had to be requested from a different branch. There’s nothing in the catalog listing for the book to indicate that it’s an 18+ title, so neither the girl nor the library system would necessarily know it’s a mature manga.

The King County Library System consists of 48 libraries with more than 100 million checkouts per year—a few years ago it had the highest circulation of any library system in the country. Last year, it won the Gale/Library Journal “Library of the Year” award. Ptacek, who’s been director for 23 years, said he receives about two of these challenges a year, but he can’t remember a time when the book was actually removed. Books are selected according to various criteria, including reviews. “We can defend or identify why we have something in the collection,” he said. “When somebody challenges something, it’s really difficult.”

One aspect of this that seemed a little odd at first is that the library shelved the book as nonfiction. I turned to my friend Robin Brenner, the teen librarian for the Brookline, Massachusetts, public library, for an explanation of this, and here’s what she said:

Officially in the Dewey Decimal system, comics are considered art rather than fiction. Library users are accustomed to the idea that fiction (and mysteries and science fiction, etc.) are placed in their own section, but officially all fiction should be in the 800s (literature). We libraries decided to make it easier for readers by pulling these types out to their own section of the stacks. In my library, we pull out graphic novels as a separate section by format (as we do with DVDs or audiobooks), but we are breaking the Dewey rules to do so, and I know of many libraries who (as King County does) keep all of their graphic novels in the nonfiction sections.

That’s an interesting philosophical point — Dewey regards comics as art rather than fiction. Ptacek said his libraries do pull out teen graphic novels into a separate collection but for some reason Hero Heel was not shelved that way, perhaps (ironically) because it is an adult title. So Hero Heel was assigned the call number 741.5952 and shelved in nonfiction. King County does not separate juvenile and adult nonfiction books, because, Ptacek said, both children and adults may need the full range: A child researching a report, say, might need information that is in an adult book, and adults may find children’s books to be good sources of information. “I think it is generally seen as an advantage to the public to keep those things together, and we have not had much of a problem,” he said. “It helps the patron encounter the full range of information we have on a topic.”

Sometimes these library issues turn into big political issues, as when the San Bernardino libraries removed multiple copies of Paul Gravett’s Manga: The First Sixty Years a few years back, thanks to a table-thumping politician. In this case, everyone stayed civil: De Nevers wrote to the library director expressing his concern, and the library director responded with a letter outlining the library’s policies.

Ptacek referred to the incident as “a good learning moment,” and De Nevers told the local TV news that he really wanted to issue a wake-up call to parents: “I would just like parents to know that there are sexually-explicit material at the library for your child to check out.”

And before anyone gets all judge-y about this family letting their child go to the library alone, I want to point out that that is absolutely standard practice in my community, and I don’t think it’s unusual elsewhere. Ten-year-olds may not be able to drive to the library, but they don’t need a parent holding them by the hand. Checking the stack of books they take out though? Not a bad idea.

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Comments

17 Comments

Nice, balanced approach by De Nevers, and by you as well, Brigid. It’s easy to turn this sort of story into something it’s not. Glad no one here has.

Just a slight nitpick here, but it’s King County Library System, not Kings County Library System.

“There’s nothing in the catalog listing for the book to indicate that it’s an 18+ title, so neither the girl nor the library system would necessarily know it’s a mature manga.”

You mean, aside from the 18+ warning on the cover?

So the Library has no responsibility at all here? Um, no. It’s true, the majority of the responsibility belongs to the parents or guardian. But what about the librarian who checked this book out? A 10 year old girl walks up and checks out a book that is clearly marked 18yr and up and the librarian has zero responsibility? So, if a ten year old girl went into the store to buy a pack of cigarettes does the seller have no responsibility?

Mistakes happen, that’s just the way it is. But the librarian, like the parent/guardian, screwed up.

Sharon,

Public libraries, unlike school libraries, do not act en loco parentis. This means we do not serve as substitute parents for children and teens who use the library. Their parents/guardians are the only ones who make decisions about what their children check out.

Cigarettes are different because it is against the law. There is no law about checking out books.

@Sharon, the library catalog listing shows the Japanese cover, so there is no 18+ label. The girl might not have known it was a Mature-rated manga until it arrived at the checkout desk, and with her grandmother waiting outside, may not have taken the time to check. Makoto Tateno does YA manga as well as adult stuff, so it’s reasonable that the girl might have liked one and requested more. Who knows, maybe she’s really a yaoi fan and knew exactly what she was doing, but it’s also possible she didn’t know and no one realized until after she brought the book home.

Honestly, I’m just happy to hear that there are still kids who use the library for fun.

A nitpick: There’s no hard and fast rule in the Dewey Decimal Classification system itself that allows fiction to be split out into its own section with its own classification system but then also prevents graphic novels or DVDs from being interfiled with fiction or split out into their own sub-collections, other than the exact same “rule” that EVERYTHING should be classified using DDC that was already broken by separating out fiction in the first place.

The only rule that actually gets “broken” by splitting out graphic novels into their own section is the local rule of each library that defines what will and won’t be classified according to DDC and what types of material will be shelved in their own subcollections rather than in the main collection. By the way, the Dewey Decimal Classification also classifies movies as “art” rather than including them with drama/plays in “literature” and libraries generally have no problem splitting feature-film DVDs out into their own section. DDC also classifies music as “art” and many libraries split out CDs into their own section with their own non-Dewey classification system. The catalogers at some libraries may be a bit too tied to the “we’ve always/never done it that way” of their library’s local rules to consider adding another exception, or may dislike the maintenance overhead that comes with making and maintaining local exceptional practices that go along with separating out subcollections, but that’s not really the fault of some rule within the DDC itself that would be “broken.”

(Aside: DDC considers prose fiction to be part of prose literature which is in turn part of “The Arts”, just as caricatures, editorical cartoons, and graphic novels are part of drawn art which is in turn also part of “The Arts” and movies are part of public performances which are also part of “The Arts”–so the classification of graphic novels within DDC isn’t a statement that graphic novels are somehow not “fiction”, but rather more that they are not “prose” or rather are more about storytelling via pictures than they are storytelling via words, just as movies are storytelling via performance and are thus also in “art” whereas play scripts are storytelling via words and are in “literature”. Note that DDC acknowledges the dual nature of graphic novels by instructing one to group books that are strictly limited to how to write graphic novels with other books on rhetoric & writing, which is part of literature.)

As some have already stated, Dewey has a number for everything: including fiction. :)

Libraries don’t usually put all fiction in the dewey system, because then the 800s section would go on for rows upon rows of books, and wouldn’t really be helpful to anyone if they were organized that way. That said, our library does catalog some fiction in Dewey, though they tend to be classics, but not always. It all depends on a the cataloguer and the library’s preferences.

Quoting Sharon:
“So the Library has no responsibility at all here? Um, no. It’s true, the majority of the responsibility belongs to the parents or guardian. But what about the librarian who checked this book out?”

As I explained at the Anime News Network forums, the branches of the King County Library System have self-checkout stations, so there’s a good chance the girl checked the book out by herself rather than through a member of the library staff.

Sarah Mae

“Public libraries, unlike school libraries, do not act en loco parentis. This means we do not serve as substitute parents for children and teens who use the library”

I didn’t say that librarians should be “substitute parents”. But just so we’re clear, you don’t think Libraries have any responsibility at all to children. Well, it’s honest. Frightening, but honest.

“so there’s a good chance the girl checked the book out by herself rather than through a member of the library staff.”

So if you’re five years old and checking out Joy of Sex in the self check out, then it’s totally cool. Awesome.

Where were these responsibility dodging Librarians when I was a kid?

@Sharon

I absolutely agree with you there is no excuse for a 10 year old being able to checkout a 18 + book, and then turn around, and blame it on the parent. Yes parents do have a responsibility to know what it is their children are reading however, that is undermined if the library thinks there should be no age appropriate system in place. I wonder if this little girl had purchase the book from Barnes and Noble or any other brink and mortar store could these stores say the same thing or would they get in trouble with the law.

Kang the Conqueror

October 20, 2012 at 5:17 am

Sharon: “Where were these responsibility dodging Librarians when I was a kid?”

Where were they then? At the check out desk doing their job. Where are they now? They’re probably unemployed due to budget cuts to things like libraries.

Quoting Sharon:

“So if you’re five years old and checking out Joy of Sex in the self check out, then it’s totally cool. Awesome.”

The only way you can use a self-checkout station at KCLS is if you have your own library card and know your PIN number. Most five year olds are not going to have their own library card, due to the fact that many are still learning how to write their own name (which you need to be able to do in order to get a library card). Most five year olds will only be able to get books out of the library is if a PARENT checks it out for them on their card.

In other words, this sarcastic jab is very unrealistic.

Speaking as both a parent (with kids ranging in age from 14 to 7), as well as a 15-year patron of KCLS, I can say that I’m satisfied and happy with the way our library system works.

I realized that I should probably mention that KCLS patrons have a choice of either using the self-checkout stations or having a library staff member check out items through the front desk.

From my observations, I generally see patrons using the self-checkout stations more than going through the front desk. The few people I do see go up to the front desk to check out items tend to be patrons who forgot to bring their library card with them and don’t have their card number memorized.

Just let little girls enjoy their gay porn.

@ Shaon The KCLS has a self check out system using bar code scanners. No librarian neccessarry to check out most materials.

Wow, that’s one mystery solved — I noticed when I was 8 years old that Garfield was in my library’s non-fic section, and I’ve been wondering why ever since.

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