Although it will never occupy the same shelf as Time or Atlantic Monthly, Playboy magazine will continue to have a home in the Oak Lawn Public Library, despite one man's objections.
Resident Mark Decker asked the library to remove the adult magazine from its inventory because it could incite molesters into action, he said. Decker, a father of three young children, said that sexually excited men should not be allowed to view such material in a building that also has child visitors.
"I was ticked off that some guy might be looking at Playboy when my kids are there," he said.
But library officials disagreed. After reviewing his request and studying the popularity of the magazine, they concluded that it can stay.
Playboy magazine, requested 44 times last year, is kept in a secure area on the library's second floor. Patrons have to show proof of age to view it and cannot take it home or to the first floor, where the children's section is located.
The library has copies dating back two years and has been offering the magazine to patrons since 1973. James Casey, the library's director, said his is the only library in the south and west suburbs to carry Playboy. The magazine can be found in only 15 libraries in the state, including Arlington Heights, Winnetka and Chicago, he said.
"We build a collection of what we think is a reflection of what the community wants to see," Casey said. "We try to serve the public rather than stand in judgment of their tastes."
Library officials said they would not remove the magazine based on one man's objection, though Decker had the backing of an Illinois social conservative group.
Casey said requests from the public to remove items are rare. Oak Lawn has fielded only a handful in 20 years, including an objection to "Pandering," a book by Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, and another for "The Tin Drum," a film adaptation of a book by the same name. One resident challenged a children's book about Christianity, saying that it wasn't a true depiction of the religion.
After reviewing those complaints, the library decided to keep all three.
Patricia Roberts, library board president, said that though she may not condone Playboy's content, she defends the rights of others who may wish to view it.
"I'm a feminist, so it's hard for me to be comfortable about Playboy, let's be honest here," she said. "But am I comfortable that we shouldn't remove material because one person asks? Yes, I'm very comfortable with that."
The American Library Association supports Oak Lawn's stance, saying that if patrons don't like certain materials, they don't have to read them.
"It's a public library," said Judith Krug, director of the office for intellectual freedom for the ALA. "If you don't like the book, magazine, CD-ROM or film, put it down and pick up something else. Libraries provide choice. Our responsibility is to have in our collection a broad range of ideas and information."
Krug said the library, a public resource, should not be drastically modified for children at the expense of all other groups.
"I get very concerned when we start hearing people who want to convert this country into a safe place for children," she said. "I am adult. I want available what I need to see."
But David Smith, senior policy analyst with the Illinois Family Institute, a conservative advocacy group based in Glen Ellyn, said Playboy is degrading to both men and women and that it has no place in a publicly funded library.
"It is not productive," he said. "Why shouldn't taxpayers like Mark Decker have a say in what goes on the shelves?"
Decker, deflated by the board's decision, said Wednesday that it is up to other mothers and fathers to raise objection to the periodical.
"I think it's an incredibly bad decision," he said.
Linda Marsicano, a Playboy spokeswoman, said her magazine isn't only about pictures of beautiful women. Its cast of contributing writers has included some of the most recognizable names in fiction and non-fiction, icons such as Kurt Vonnegut, Alex Haley, Hunter Thompson, Joyce Carol Oates and Susan Sontag.
"It is the right of adults to be able to choose their reading material," she said. "By having it in a library, adults have the right to exercise their own judgment and preferences."
jnapolitano at tribune.com
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