Hillsborough County prohibits children younger than 12 from being in a public library without a parent or guardian. Parents have the ability to check online to see what materials their library card-carrying youngsters have borrowed. They also can just stop their children from having a library card.
Commissioner Michael Owen and a commission majority said Wednesday the controls are not enough. They want the county to investigate how parents can prohibit children younger than 18 from borrowing library materials intended for mature readers.
The county also said it will drop its affiliation with the American Library Association when its membership expires June 30. The nonprofit organization began in 1876 and promotes libraries and library education internationally. But county staff said Wednesday they saw little return on the county’s annual dues of $2,111.
Owen had targeted the membership in March, saying the association had “gone radical.” He pointed to association’s incoming president, Emily Drabinski, an academic librarian at the City University of New York, who called herself a Marxist in a tweet posted after she won the office last year.
But it was the suggestion of banning children from borrowing certain materials that dominated the debate and drew opposition form nine people during the commission meeting’s public comment period. Three of the speakers quoted passages form the Old Testament that described incest, rape, and other violent or sexual activity.
“You’re taking us to a place where the Bible is available in the sleaziest hotel rooms, but not in the public libraries,” said James Shaw, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa.
Parent Nicole Huff said she takes her Spiderman-loving daughter into the adult section of the library because that’s where the Marvel Comics are available.
Owen told the commission he wanted more parental controls available for adults to opt out of allowing their children from borrowing specific materials.
“This isn’t about banning books,” said Owen. “This is about protecting our youth and working with parents.”
Owen provided written excerpts to the rest of the commission from titles he said were borrowed by an 8-year-old child. Most were available as online e-editions only, but he also held up a paperback copy of Slippery When Wet. That 2013 fiction book is described on Amazon as five “salacious stories filled to the brim with sizzling, steamy erotica” involving sex among women.
“This was enough to make an old sailor blush,” Commissioner Joshua Wostal said after reading the passage from Owen.
The commission voted 5-2 to ask its library advisory board and its information technology staff to develop a recommended policy for providing a parental “opt-out” to limit what their children can borrow.
Commissioners Pat Kemp and Harry Cohen both dissented and said the existing controls were adequate.
“Any parent would love to have their kids at the library,” said Kemp. “It’s a matter of parents taking responsibility for this. Not us. Not our system.”
Owen said he just wanted to give the parents that opportunity.
“If you want your kids to read Slippery When Wet,” he said, “you’ll have the ability to let them read this stuff.”