village board is wrong to enter playboy fray

sunday, november 6, 2005

the issue:  oak lawn's village board sends a letter to the library board asking it to remove playboy magazine, which is kept behind the counter at the library.

we say:  the library board, elected by village residents, should determine what materials are kept in the library.  the village board should not pander to those who have made this an issue and should let library officials do their job.

twice so far this year, the oak lawn public library board has declined to drop playboy magazine from its behind-the-counter collection of materials for adult patrons.  mark decker, a resident of oak lawn who considers the magazine pornographic, wants it removed, and claims that 80 percent of village residents agree with him.

but the library board and director james casey say they have a responsibility to provide a diverse collection of materials, and so they've refused decker's demand.  as we've said before, we believe the library board made the right decision:  public libraries have a responsibility to provide a wide range of books, magazines and, in today's world, other multi-media materials to serve the needs of the entire community.  we don't know whether decker's 80 percent figure is accurate, but it is irrelevant to this question.  we suspect a large percentage of the books and magazines in any library would fail to get majority approval, but whether they did or not, the library should not base its decisions on polls.

but decker's pleas apparently are getting a more receptive hearing on the other side of raymond avenue, in the village hall.  last week the village board decided to send a letter to the library board asking it to reconsider the playboy decision.  and in recent months, the village police chief has been warning businesses in town not to carry materials that he thinks might be pornographic, apparently in response to decker's campaign.

casey told the southtown that this was the first time in his 32 years in the library business that he's been aware of a city or village asking a library to remove a title.  there's a reason for that:  what a library collection contains is no business of the city council or village board.  it's the business of the library board members, who are elected to take on that responsibility.  and any community that lets politics be interjected into such decisions is going to see all kinds of requests that books and magazines be banned.

if playboy must go, how about cosmopolitan with its scantily clad models, or sports illustrated with its annual bathing suit issue?  or time or newsweek, with their occasional photos from motion pictures that some would argue can be offensive, if not obscene?

but the range of potentially offensive materials never stops at "dirty pictures."  "offensive words" lead to calls to ban works of literature all the time.  whether it's "catcher in the rye" or "the adventures of huckleberry finn" or "the davinci code" or any other book, someone is going to find it offensive, inappropriate, maybe pornographic.

mayor dave heilmann says the board is not engaging in censorship when it tells the library board it doesn't approve of playboy and wants it gone.  he told one of the downtown newspapers, "i don't think there's any desire to be telling the library board how to conduct their business."

then don't.

the mayor and the village trustee have a right to express their opinions on this issue, but they've gone beyond that by taking a unanimous vote calling on the library to reconsider.  whether heilmann wants to recognize it or not, the fact that the village board has the authority to approve or reject the library board's budget puts a letter like this one in a more serious category than simple observations.  so does taking a vote on a question that's not their business.

and the fact that the police chief is going around town checking on magazine racks and video store shelves is a new development in oak lawn, something that wasn't happening before the current mayor and village board were elected.  that creates a context in which the letter to the library board looks like unwarranted interference in library business.  and the playboy question is library business, not village business.

the library board has made its decision, and it was the right one.  the oak lawn library is widely recognized as one of the best in this region, and the village board shouldn't mess around with it.  it's a library for all residents, not just for children.  the village board must recognize that and mind its own business.

our editorial board:  the editoral board which meets regularly to discuss the newspapers position on issues, consists of managing editor dennis robaugh; editorial directors john hector and ed koziarski; assistant managing editors jean hodges and john o'brien; city editors bill runimski and thomas finn; assistant features editor donna vickroy; and news columnist phil kadner.
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