NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Hamilton East Public Library found itself under the scrutiny of the national spotlight after a controversial review policy led to famous teen books being relocated to a section meant only for adults.
While some board members and defenders claimed the move was to protect young adult readers from “inappropriate” materials, many others — including famous Indianapolis author John Green — shamed the move.
Green, after learning his best-selling young adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars” was moved to the Adult section, called the policy “an embarrassment” and the relocation decision “political theater of the lowest and most embarrassing order.”
“They are saying they are not banning books, but this is a type of censorship,” said library visitor Heather Garrison.
The controversial policy is not only costing Hamilton County taxpayers upwards of $300,000, but it cost Hamilton East Public Library Board President Laura Alerding her position after being ousted in a 3-2 vote last week.
On Thursday night, during a crowded Hamilton East Public Library Board meeting, the controversial review policy implemented by the board was suspended by the board. The ongoing book review process, with thousands of books yet to be read under this new, more scrutinous eye, is dead in the water.
At least for the time being.
Opponents of the policy, like Garrison, say the policy is not only censorship, it is also inconsistent.
“They don’t really have set a set of why they are moving certain books and why they are not moving other books,” she said.
Other library visitors like Stephanie Hunt said the policy seems to negatively affect some groups more than others. Hunt said she would even consider the policy to be “hateful behavior.”
“They’re keeping books out of the hands of the LGBTQ community, they’re keeping books out of the hands of children of color,” she argued. “Everybody likes to see themselves reflected in everything that they do whether that’s reading or going to school. By removing books that explain life situations, they are essentially trying to censor and keep kids from being exposed to things and trying to force their religious agendas on families that don’t necessarily agree with that.”
Books that have already been moved out of the teen section, such as “The Fault in Our Stars” or the non-fiction book “Attucks!” — the true story of an Indiana all-black high school basketball team that won the state championship in 1955 — will remain in the adult section for the time being, however, as the matter of relocating books that have already been moved was tabled.
In addition to attracting the attention of the national news media and author John Green, the controversial review policy led to frequent online discourse with some backing the policy while claiming it protects children and doesn’t outright ban books, only relocates them.
Others argue, however, that the policy hinders young readers from discovering content that is written for teens and is about teen experiences. Critics of the policy also point out that moving popular teen books into the adult section will only expose children to material with stronger adult themes as young readers go in search of popular teen books that have been relocated; therefore becoming counterproductive to the policy’s claimed intention of protecting children from inappropriate material.
So far, the library has reviewed some 3,600 books, putting the entire review process at roughly 37% complete.
FOX59/CBS4 has asked the Hamilton East Public Library for further clarification of the policy and its suspension along with the fate of books that have already been relocated.
Library board member Andre Miksha said he was encouraged by Thursday’s meeting.
“[I’m encouraged] that there may be changes, that members of the board are hearing the various sides and we’re looking at it from all the different angles so that our whole community can be represented in our ultimate decision,” Miksha said.
Other library visitors like Garrison said they are hopeful a large discussion on the policy is nearing.
“I think that’s a good move that we’re doing right now, but we’ll see what happens,” Garrison said.
The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Sept. 28. Miksha said it could be possible the board calls a special meeting just to address the book review policy.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Michael Van Schoik contributed to this report.