Precinct 333

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Censorship In Houston

Let me begin with a disclaimer -- I don't know a thing about Jenna Jameson, her porn career, or her new book, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. I don't know whetehr it is appropriate to be out on the "Best Seller's" rack at the local libray, whether it belongs in the stacks, or whetehr it is inappropriate material for a public library.

What I do know is that I have a problem with a single politician being able to unilaterally censor materials in the library. That's why I object to Houston's Mayor Bill White ordering the book off the shelves of local branch libraries and into the closed stacks downtown, where it must be requested by a patron and retrieved by a librarian.

White recently ordered that the library's dozen copies of Jameson's best-selling How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale be removed from open shelves.

In making his decision, White sidestepped the committee process that Houston's libraries typically use to evaluate complaints about items in their collections.

"We're trying to take action quickly, and we didn't see a need to go through a long bureaucratic process," said White's spokesman, Frank Michel.

The mayor decreed that the books, which once were on prominent best seller displays at the central library and 11 branches, be locked in the closed stacks of Houston's central library downtown. Patrons must ask to view or check out the book, which contains Jameson's lurid confessions and a few of her nude photos.

Sandra Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the Houston Public Library, said all copies of Jameson's book now are checked out, and more than 20 people are on a waiting list for the book.

Michel said the mayor got involved because Councilwoman Pam Holm asked him to, and it didn't necessarily mean that White will take direct action on future complaints about library books.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor, that isn't good enough. There is a process in place for challenging books in the Houston Public Library system. It should have been used. That you simply stepped in and issued an order -- even one that might be the best choice for dealing with a book of this sort -- is inappropriate. Decisions to restrict the reading choices of library patrons should be made with wide public input, not by a single individual.

And even more dangerous is Councilwoman Holm's response to the mayor's action. She didn't, and still doesn't, know that there is a system in place to handle such issues.

And yes, I know and agree that not every book is in the library, nor does a library have the resources or obligation to stock everything. However, once the professionals hired to make such choices have put a book on the shelf, it is inappropriate to allow one or two individuals to decide (especially for political reasons) to override that decision. Maybe White's solution was the best one out there -- but it shouldn't have been imposed by decree based upon the complaint of one councilwoman.


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