booksThis story has appeared twice in the news media recently – someone decides that a book should not be in a young people’s library collection, so they check it out and pay for it rather than return it. In other words, instant censorship.

In the first case, a woman, JoAn Karkos, checked the -notorious- sex education book It’s Perfectly Normal out of the Lewiston and Auburn, ME Public Libraries in August, and sent the librarians a check for $20.95 – the retail price of the book – for each one along with a letter saying,

“Since I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and the sexually graphic, amoral abnormal contents, I will not be returning the books.”

Rick Speer, Lewiston Public Library’s director, returned the check along with a request-for-reconsideration form and he says he may work with police to have LPL’s copy returned. “It is clearly theft,” he told the reporter.

In the other case, reported in American Libraries Online, a sophomore in a Brookwood, AL high school checked out Ellen Wittinger’s Sandpiper from the school library for a book report. Her grandmother, Pam Pennington, looked it over and was incensed. She filed a complaint with the school and the girl has told the librarian she will not return the book because it goes into too much sexual detail for a high school student to read.

I’ve heard of many other cases of outraged library users deciding not to return books they consider not suitable for children. I saw it happen myself years ago with a copy of Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies. (The library I worked for at the time simply ordered another copy.) I know that in a good number of these incidents, the user keeping the book is a member of a conservative religious group who knows all about how to fill out a request-for-reconsideration form, but who believes that librarians are biased against them and will do whatever they can to keep that book on the shelf.

By stealing the book and then paying for it, I’m guessing that the user hopes it will be too much trouble for the librarians to replace the book. I hope that’s not going to happen in either of these two cases, and I admire LPL’s Rick Speer for treating the loss of It’s Perfectly Normal as what it is – perfectly normal book theft.