Gay-Anthology Ban Engulfs Burlington County Public Library

Posted Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 14:04

Some six months after Burlington County, New Jersey, resident Beverly Martinelli appeared before the Rancocas Valley Regional High School Board of Education seeking the removal of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the school library collection, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that the Burlington County (N.J.) Library System has removed the book at Martinelli’s informal request—and indeed may have done so several weeks before the school board’s May 4 vote to ban the book from the district.

An email exchange obtained by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union documents correspondence (PDF file) between BCLS Director Gail Sweet and Martinelli about Revolutionary Voices. Sweet assures Martinelli April 27 that “the Library Commissioners supported our staff recommendation to remove Revolutionary Voices from our shelves. As the copies that are checked out return, we will take them out of circulation.” On May 3, Sweet apprises two BCLS staffers of the decision and asks, “How can we grab the books so that they never, ever get back into circulation … (not a good idea to send copies to the book sale).” In answer to Bordentown branch librarian Andy Woodworth inquiring about a rumor “that the system is taking [Revolutionary Voices] off the shelves,” Sweet replies May 24, “We were aware of the challenge at Rancocas Valley High School and took a look at the book… . We made the decision before the Board of Ed decided to remove the book at RV.” The next day, Sweet told him the reason for the removal was “child pornography.”

On July 28, the title was not listed in the BCLS catalog.

According to a July 23 posting at the LibraryLaw.com blog, BCLS did not follow its material reconsideration policy because Martinelli seems never to have made a written request, even though Sweet sent her the PDF file) March 16, noting in her cover letter that she was following up at the prompting of library Commissioner Patrick Delany, with whom Martinelli had been in touch. The gay-rights website Box Turtle noted July 28 that Martinelli  served  on the Lumberton (Pa.) Township Council from 2005 to 2008 while Delany was Lumberton mayor, and that the two also may also know each other through their membership in Fox-TV personality Glenn Beck’s 912 Project.

“The take-home message for libraries, especially public institutions,” wrote Law Library blogger Mary Minow, “is that book removal policies are immensely important. Libraries can protect themselves against exposure to lawsuits, if they adopt procedures for handling challenges and for ‘weeding,’—and then exercise care to follow those procedures carefully.”

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