Tina Harden wants warning labels on books; she owes about $85 in fines
Longwood parent Tina Harden was so disturbed by references to sex and drugs and foul language in the world of fictional teenager Jenny Humphrey that she is ignoring overdue notices and phone calls from her neighborhood library and its bill collector.
Harden refuses to return several books connected to the Gossip Girl series that detail Humphrey's life, even though she's had them since 2008.
"If I turn them in, they will be put back into circulation and they'll be available for more young girls to read," said the mother of three, who keeps the four books hidden in a closet. "Some material is inappropriate for minors."
Harden said she doesn't want them banned, but she does want the library to put a warning label on the four titles — one in the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar, and three in a spin-off series called It Girl — and make them unavailable to minors. The library refused but has agreed to re-shelve them in the adult-reading section.
"If we denied access to this particular title, it would be censoring," said Jane Peterson, the county's library services manager.
That's not good enough for Harden, who said that as a taxpayer she should have a say in which books land on the libraries' shelves. "They're supposed to be public servants," she said.
The libraries have multiple copies of the novels in the series. If her library privileges hadn't been revoked, Harden said she would try to check them all out.
She owes about $85 in fines.
Two years ago, Harden's daughter, then 13, handed the stack of books to her mother at the checkout at Seminole County's Northwest Branch library in Lake Mary.
Harden later flipped through one and saw numerous curse words and terms such as "stoned" and "marijuana," and a reference to sleeping with a teacher.
"The whole book was filled with everything I don't want my daughter to do or be," she said.
The library notes that the series is popular among young adults, and it has an obligation to stock books in demand. One title in the series, Notorious, was checked out 129 times from late November to late April.
Harden questions how the library can enforce an Internet policy that restricts access to certain content but not place limitations on books.
According to the county, its libraries have to abide by the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires libraries to block or filter inappropriate material, such as nudity, on library computers in return for getting certain types of funding. As for the books, library policy says that parents are responsible for monitoring what their children read.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, said it would be unconstitutional for the library, a public institution, to restrict access to books. Labeling alone would raise legal issues, she said. Movie theaters are different, she pointed out, because ratings are created and enforced by private entities.
"Somewhere in every library, there's something to offend everyone," she said. "You tolerate that because the library is trying to serve the needs of the community."
She said books such as those in the It Girl series can help "teenagers confront life situations in the safe environment of a book." She said those books could also appeal to teens who otherwise might not read.
Two Leesburg mothers have challenged the Gossip Girl series and other books intended for young adults. Dixie Fechtel and Diane Venetta have gotten Leesburg to label certain books "high school" and have taken their campaign countywide. They would like to see warning labels, but aren't pursuing age restrictions on borrowing.
Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel of Maitland, which is backing the pair, said libraries could likely find a legal way to label books and restrict access to children.
Harden's approach is unusual, but not unheard of.
Several years ago, a Maine woman refused to return It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health. She ended up in court, where a judge required her to produce the book and pay a $100 fine. She refused, but a local pastor paid her fine, and officials stopped pursuing the book.
"Harden, who said that as a taxpayer she should have a say in which books land on the libraries' shelves."
You're having a fit over some Gossip Girl books? I don't understand these people. How about -- instead of acting high-and-mighty and loony -- as a taxpayer you use your right to petition with the other moms who don't like the books (as much as you obviously don't) to get them labeled or re-shelved elsewhere? Or *be the parent* and *talk to your child* about how "bad" you think a marijuana reference is and that she shouldn't aspire to be Jenny Humphrey.
p.s. thanks mods