By Jonathan Bullington
When library trustees in north suburban Morton Grove learned that a 16-year-old employee would oversee the showing of an R-rated film at the institution, some of them requested that an adult take over the job.
The incident represents another page in the ongoing debate over the accessibility of adult-themed materials to young library patrons.
“It would be highly offensive to a great number of residents of Morton Grove that the library is using their tax money to employ a 16-year-old to show movies that, under the same circumstances, that person would not be allowed to attend … without parental accompaniment,” said Trustee Catherine Peters.
Peters asked that the teen not serve as projectionist for the July 23 screening of the R-rated comedy, “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
The teen worker left the Morton Grove library for another job, and an adult now runs the projector for the library’s various movie screenings, said Library Director Pam Leffler.
The struggle to define age-appropriate content is not unique to libraries. In recent years, school districts have faced challenges to certain novels or films being used in class. Libraries have encountered objections from parents concerned with what children bring home.
But librarians say they oversee a storehouse of knowledge where access to information should be expected — not denied. The onus is on parents, they say, to monitor their child’s library usage.
“If a parent is deeply concerned about their minor teen’s access to library materials, it is their responsibility to monitor that,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the office for intellectual freedom at the Chicago-based American Library Association, which bills itself as the oldest and largest library association in the world.
“The library can’t know what the family’s values are,” she said. “They can’t restrict access based on disapproval of the content. They do what they can to match usage and materials, and to give parents all the information they need so they can make good decisions in light of their family values.”
The American Library Association advocates against restricted access to library materials — in print, music, movies or on the Internet. Its position has drawn sharp criticism from some organizations, including the Washington-based Morality in Media, which listed the association on its “dirty dozen” list of the top “facilitators of porn” in the United States.
“When a community looks at whether a public library should be a source of pornography, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that thinks it should be,” said Morality in Media President Patrick Trueman. “There’s no case that says a patron has the right to receive pornography from a library.”
Access to adult content varies depending on the library. Some use website-blocking software on every computer, or on computers in youth sections of the library.
Chicago’s public libraries have no such software installed, said spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer. The library tested such filters and found them to either block too much or not enough, she said.
In Des Plaines, every computer in the library including those used by staff, have a site-blocking software installed.
At Cook Memorial Public Library District, with locations in Libertyville and Vernon Hills, such software is only used on computers in the library’s youth sections.
Morton Grove’s Leffler said at her library and others, parents who want to keep certain library materials out of their kids’ hands can request restrictions on the child’s library card. Only a small portion of patrons place such restrictions, she said.
New Morton Grove resident Adrian Beasley, 27, acquired a restricted library card Friday for his 10-year-old son.
“They have things he can check out that aren’t appropriate,” Beasley said. But, he added, it’s ultimately his responsibility to monitor what his son checks out from the library.
Leffler said the former teen employee had received parental permission to run the projector in the library’s Tuesday afternoon film series. And, as Caldwell-Stone at the American Library Association pointed out, the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system acts as guidelines — not law.
“An R-rating has not, and has never been, a determination that a work is any way obscene or pornography,” Caldwell-Stone said. “It’s (the parent’s) decision. If you don’t want your child to see this movie, make sure your child does not see this movie.”