Parents object to placement of sexually explicit books in Charleston library

Minde Herbert said she is not arguing that the books should be banned from the library, or even the Teen Lounge, but objected to the initial decision to prominently display them in a central area.   Contributed by Minde Herbert

A group of local parents is concerned about the placement of what they claim to be sexually explicit books in the Charleston County Public Library's downtown branch's Teen Lounge section, which is designed for children as young as sixth grade, or 11 years old.

Library officials told Palmetto Business Daily that they have addressed the parents' concerns, but the parents say that is not the case.

The parents say they were genuinely shocked that the seven books, which were written for teenagers aged 16 and 17, were on a featured display in the Teen Lounge section. The books were displayed near tables where the parents gathered for a weekly book club, in which many of the children were 11 years old.

The books include titles such as, "The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex," a compilation of 17 female authors writing about losing their virginity in their teens; "Sex: An Uncensored Introduction"; and "The Little Black for Boys: Guys Talk About Sex."

Minde Herbert, a mother of two 11-year-old children and one of the book club organizers, said that "The V-Word" includes a graphic description of oral sex. She said the introduction to sex includes a list of slang names for breasts, and she notes that "The Little Black Book for Boys" encourages boys to call their penises "love machines."

Herbert said she is not arguing that the books should be banned from the library, or even the Teen Lounge, but objected to the initial decision to prominently display them in a central area. She claims that when she approached the manager of the teen lounge, Andria Amaral, the response was initially a laugh, and then combative. She asked that the complaint be passed on to the manager of the library. Twenty parents then wrote to the library, Herbert said.

Herbert then met with the library's manager, Darlene Jackson, after which all of the books were moved from the more central position, and four were placed on the shelves. She does not know where the other three are, but they are not on display.

Herbert said the books have now been moved to an area beside comic books. She believes the initial display promoted the books to younger and pre-teens, but is now concerned the books were simply moved to shelves beside the comic book section of the lounge.

"At this time, we are not asking that the books be removed or banned from the Teen Lounge... but moved to a place such as filed on the shelf with the health and/or sex/relationship books, so they are no longer publicly promoted to 11-year olds," Herbert said.

Amaral, when contacted by Palmetto Business Daily, said she could not speak to the media, and referred the reporter to the library service's public relations manager.

Amaral was profiled last year by Library Journal, which named her one of its Movers and Shakers of the year, and in which Amaral briefly referred to her philosophy. Describing her first semester in library school, Amaral said she found her voice during a discussion on censorship and Madonna’s controversial book, "Sex."

“Suddenly I found my voice,” she told Library Journal. “I started arguing, loudly, in favor of pop culture relevance and freedom of access.”

Amaral also was honored in part for her role in a controversy over the removal of a young adult book from an optional 2015 summer reading list. The story centers on a girl who is bullied after becoming the victim of a sexual assault that included oral sex, which was graphically depicted.

After the book was removed from the reading list, a social media campaign was launched, and 1,000 books were sent to the Charleston Public Library, where some were displayed at the main Calhoun Street branch. Others were distributed elsewhere.

The Post and Courier reported that Amaral said donated copies of that book could be taken home "for free — no library card needed."

Natalie Hauff, public relations manager for the Charleston Public Library, respond to Palmetto Business Daily about this most recent controversy, saying management worked with Herbert, took her concerns and those of the others on board, and acted by removing the books from the display.

"We have done what we are going to do, and [are] not going to make any further changes," Hauff said. "They are intended for a young adult audience as judged by the author and publishers."

Further, the books were chosen by the collections department, and they passed the threshold that led them to be part of the Teen Lounge collection, Hauff said.

"A huge principle of the library service is that parents and only parents have the right to restrict access," she said. "Libraries cannot assume that role."

Herbert and other parents, however, are concerned that the books were merely shifted from one featured bookshelf to a bookshelf right next to the comic books.

"This kind of explicit material should not be promoted to 11-year-olds," Herbert said. "The books are in their eye range and they are not meant to have information that early. It is really very explicit, very graphic information."

Herbert said that some parents may attend the upcoming Library Board of Trustees meeting to discuss the issue. That meeting will be held April 25 at 8 a.m. in the Main Library Auditorium.

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