Hertfordshire libraries restrict graphic novel borrowing by age

The public library system in Hertfordshire, England, has restricted who can check out graphic novels that are classified as "adult" — which includes not only mature-reader titles but also comics aimed at a broader audience, such as Batman and The Avengers, according to the local newspaper.

Often, these sorts of stories start with a parent who is outraged to find a child checking out or browsing adult materials. In this case, however, the issue was simply one of proximity: When Louisa de Beaufort brought her two children to the public library in her small town of Harpenden, she noticed that graphic novels of an adult nature were on the other side of the bookshelves that held children's books. What's more, mature-readers graphic novels in the adult section were shelved alongside tamer titles.

De Beaufort used her child's library card to borrow not one but 10 mature titles, including The Boys, Crossing Midnight and Fatale, at a self-checkout station in the library. She then complained to the staff that any child could check out any book.

As another newspaper notes, de Beaufort is a supporter of a national organization called Child Eyes, which is dedicated to keeping adult materials away from children, and it seems to have gotten involved, although it's not clear how. Child Eyes claims it doesn't advocate censorship, but rather keeping inappropriate materials away from children, and it mounts campaigns to keep tabloid newspapers (which often feature not just salacious headlines but also semi-nude photos of women on Page 3) away from the toy and candy section of supermarkets. In this case, however, it did amount to censorship: The library has now restricted loans of all graphic novels shelved in the adult section to readers over 16. In addition, graphic novels classified as "mature" cannot be checked out by anyone under the age of 18.

The problem now, as one longtime staff member pointed out, is that the older kids for whom these books are perfectly suitable can't get them:

“Young people are wanting to read things rather than just doing it for homework and we are not letting them.

“With young people especially, their love of reading can be turned off.

“Some do have adult content, but there is a warning by the publisher on them.

“It used to be down to the parents, they have been taking responsibility for what their child has been reading and we have never had any complaints that I am aware of.”

And that's the nub of the matter. De Beaufort's children are under 10 and, quite frankly, unlikely to pick up The Boys to begin with. But what about the 14-year-old who wants to read The Unwritten or The Walking Dead? (Both are rated as 17+ by the publisher, but anyone who knows teenagers knows they read up, and anyway, it's a publisher's suggested age rating, not the law.) In the United States, the American Library Association opposes age restrictions on the grounds that they violate the Library Bill of Rights, and that the First Amendment applies to children and teenagers as well as adults. In Hertfordshire, on the other hand, teenagers are now barred from checking out a Spider-Man trade paperback because the only resolution the powers that be could come up with to this complaint was to hit it with the bluntest hammer possible.

(via the CBLDF blog)

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