Hamilton County And An Age-Old Story…

Back in 1995, when I was still at Indiana’s ACLU, I wrote a column about a “recurring fantasy” of mine, which I described as follows: a caveman discovers that he can produce drawings of the animals he hunts on the walls of his cave. Excited by the possibilities of his art, energized by the creative act, he produces a drawing–only to have it rubbed angrily off the cave wall by someone in his tribe who declares that the depiction of animal genitalia is indecent.

The first artist encounters the first censor, and a dynamic is born that is with us still!

Here in Indiana, there has been a takeover of the Hamilton County library board by some current descendants of my imagined angry tribesman. (Hamilton County is one of the “doughnut counties” surrounding Indianapolis, which occupies all of Marion County.)The new board immediately moved to “protect” children by requiring the library staff to review all of the books available to teenagers in the Young Adult section (at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of $300,000 ). Reports are that, out of the 1,859 physical books examined thus far, 1,385 have been moved from the Young Adult section to the Adult or General section.

One of the book moved was John Green’s best-selling “The Fault in Our Stars,” and Green sent–and publicized– an appropriately outraged message to the Board, triggering a national outcry, and a local petition to “Stop Censorship at Hamilton East Public Library.” (When I last looked, that petition had garnered some 3500 signatures.) As I write this, the turmoil has resulted in the (welcome) replacement of the library board’s president, a strong supporter of “protecting” children from reading  about things they can easily access on the internet and elsewhere.

The insistence that this exercise has been in furtherance of “parental rights” is equally ridiculous; a genuine concern for parental rights would respect the rights of all parents to determine what materials their children can access–not the right of some parents to determine what everyone else’s children can read.

No one said these people are smart. Just rabid.

I confess that I have never been able to understand the frantic need of so many of our fellow-citizens to control the habits and behaviors of the rest of us–habits and behaviors that do not affect them.

Nat Hentoff once wrote that the human animal’s urge to censor is stronger than its sex drive. In my days with the ACLU, I dealt regularly with folks who were absolutely convinced that they knew better than you and me what books we should read, what art we should see, and what musical lyrics the government should allow us to hear.

For those of us who believe that ideas matter, that literature and art are intensely important activities through which humans explore ideas, censorship poses a threat to our most important values. The government that can determine which ideas are worthy of consideration– and/or the age at which we should be allowed to consider them– is a government with power over the most important of all human functions–the power of the intellect.

In my long-ago fantasy, the caveman and his critic take their respective arguments to the leader of the cave clan. The censor insists that he and his friends find the drawing indecent, and argues that allowing smut in the cave will debauch the children and undermine the clan’s community standards. Another member argues the case for the artist: a society unwilling to consider all ideas will never leave the caves, will never reach the stars. A society willing to be ruled by the fears of the many will be deprived of the genius of the few.

In my dream, the leader considers the arguments and rules in favor of freedom of artistic expression. Civil liberties are born.

That, of course, was my fantasy. It remains to be seen whether civil liberties–not to mention common sense– will prevail in Hamilton County….Or, for that matter,  elsewhere in Indiana.


  1. Nothing else increases the popularity of a book as much as banning it. I’m not suggesting we ignore the censors, just that they are fighting a losing battle. We can overcome them without being terrorized by them. The urge to be free is incredibly powerful and, once having tasted freedom, people will not easily surrender it. We have enjoyed freedom of speech in this country for a long time. I don’t think we are even close to losing it.

  2. The sudden need to “protect” children began with the culture wars instigated by TFG. I still remember the cheers and applause back in 2016 when he proclaimed, “l love undereducated people!” Of course he and his ilk do, because undereducated people are more easily manipulated. Now we have “parental rights” (what about MY parental rights?) and Moms for “Liberty”—the liberty to deny other moms their liberty. I’m appalled at the price tag on reviewing and relocating so many thousands of books, but perhaps those wingnuts behind it consider it money well spent for ensuring that the children are indoctrinated in the “Right” way. But what’s to prevent the kids from simply going to the adult or general sections of the libraries and accessing the books there? Do they need a note from mommy? And if they can do so, how much longer before the books are removed from the libraries altogether—and before the libraries themselves are shuttered? All in the name of “protecting the children.”
    The slope is getting more and more dangerously slippery every day. The culture warriors win because they make the most noise. The rest of us—and the Dems—better start getting loud and raucous before it’s too late to turn the tide.

  3. Pardon me if my comments offend any of you today (again) but this is the almost 60 year old memory of a parent’s selection of reading material for her 16 year old daughter. I have forgotten all names but, the 16 year old daughter was my babysitter and said she was assigned to select and read a book and write a report on the message the book meant to her but couldn’t think of a book to read. I handed her my well read copy of “Gone With The Wind”. The next day she returned my book with the message from her mother that she isn’t allowed to read “dirty books”. A few days later her mother and I were having coffee with another neighbor when her 13 year old son ran in the door to tell her her 7 year old son had been “playing with” their boxer dog’s penis and it “came” all over him. Wonder where the 13 year old learned the term “came” and what it meant and why the 7 year old was interested in the dogs genitals. Maybe people should look inside the families of those wanting to ban books and why anything sexual – or racial – offends or threatens them. Children today (and teens are still children) are much more aware of what is going on around them; even some commercial ads have become sexually offensive. They don’t even need to look into TV programming or movies to find explicit sexual scenes.

    We shouldn’t be ashamed of the human body but; advertisers are turning to showing intimate displays of body parts to promote sales. No longer do we see or hear complaints about vehicle sales ads promoting their newest models by scantily clad girls draped over their hoods.

  4. As I recall, back in the day, children and “young adults” mostly had legs, curiosity, and fascination with the forbidden. I’ll bet that’s still true. The best way to arouse interest of people in a subject is to forbid it. Unless libraries have ID checkpoints and separate rooms for forbidden books, they will still be accessible to curious young people. The argument that we can “protect” children by a government- mandated see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to libraries is absurd on its face. Hurrah for those in Hamilton County who rose up and nailed the board president who seems to have led the figurative book burning. Oh, by the way, the young people I meet have no interest in books of any kind. “Forbidden” material is available in abundance to any 4 year old having her own smartphone.

  5. I hope they start a strong Banned Book Club as other towns have done. It will get more kids to read more books.

  6. Of course, Sheila. You have a lot of the facts wrong. You are a better lawyer than this.
    1. The books are not banned. They were reshelved in based on the policy which is long a standard. A Board or appointed people by elected officials set a community standard.
    2. The books remain in the library.
    3. Any adult has the ability to check out any of these books for their own children.
    4. There is a review process in place. It has
    already resulted in one reshelved book being returned to the YA section.

  7. I have often asked myself, ‘Why do some people do such a poor job teaching their children about their religion that they need the government to do it for them?’ Now the question is, ‘Why do parents do such a poor job monitoring their children’s choices they expect the government to do it for them?’ Parental rights, indeed! Small government? Really?

  8. As a Hamilton County (Carmel) resident, I feel the need to point out that Hamilton County does not have a library board. The county does have several independent library systems. The offending system is the Hamilton East Public Library, serving Fishers and Noblesville.

  9. Sheila writes, “No one said these people are smart. Just rabid.”

    Therein lies the problem. Let them have their three minutes, but no more. Let them ramble at school board meetings, then ask them to move along.

    What’s funny is their inherent contradiction of “big government” overreaching on guns yet using to government to overreach on books. Oh, the irony!

    Hamilton County should know better since lots of professors live in that community. Many of which have tenure – same with teachers. Has the union fallen asleep in these bedroom communities? Stand up and protest, people…

    We need to be more active in countering these rabid looneys. Teachers on strike can disrupt a community fast, attracting local media; especially when you send press releases to the media in advance. Make noise!!

  10. Msammy – a streak of truth for these days! Parenting withers as the even the youngest are “raised” (lowered) via “do what you wanta do; believe what you wanta”…IGIO

  11. Perhaps the Library staff should take all of those books that are considered inappropriate for a particular age group, and put them in their own set of shelves, in the adult section, with a sign saying that “A group of people in the community think that these books are inappropriate for children. What do YOU think?”

  12. We increasingly live in a “mob rule” culture. The quality/value of everything is determined by the “raged” or “outraged”. No more movie reviewers – no more restaurant reviewers. The “Best” are by “popularity” or (paid) “influencers”. The new source for values to replace religion…

  13. I have 7 published books that are banned. I say that because they aren’t best-sellers… yet. So, following the idiocy of book banning, they should be openly banned. That would suggest, of course, that people actually read them.

    So, make my novels best-sellers and let me enjoy the notoriety of having them banned. http://www.vernturner.com.

  14. Thank you, Dawn Brockman, for so concisely sharing the inane points spouted by the “child protectors.” Books published as Young Adult should be in the Young Adult section of the library. Let parents review and approve their children’s reading material if they choose.

  15. “Moms for Liberty” to deprive others of liberty. Ban away! Please make good books must reads for kids.

  16. There simply is nothing here about protecting the children, it is about pursuing an agenda, a religious agenda, I propose.

    I’m old, now, but not old enough to have been around when this happened:
    “On Dec 6,1933 Judge John M. Woolsey, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in the case of ‘United States, Libelant v. One Book Called Ulysses Random House, Inc. Claimant,’ found in favor of Random House, and the book, that the book was not obscene. In a forward to the book, written on Dec.11, 1933, Morris L. Ernst wrote that ‘It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Judge Woolsey’s decision. For decades the censors have fought to emasculate literature. They have tried to set up the sensibilities of the prudery-ridden as a criterion for society, have sought to reduce the reading material of adults to the level of adolescents and subnormal persons, and have nurtured evasions and sanctimonies.’
    The ‘Ulysses’ case marks a turning point. It is a body-blow for the censors. The necessity for hypocrisy and circumlocution in literature has been eliminated. Writers need no longer seek refuge in euphemisms. They may now describe basic human functions without fear of the law.” pg.vii.

    Similarly, much like the standard “Protection ” racket of a mobster, protecting children from feeling “guilty” about the actions of their generations ago ancestors, who were alright with supporting slavery, by (literally) whitewashing that history, is only agenda driven. Why would a child of the 21st century take upon him/herself the weight of actions with which she/he had nothing to do. That would be like the brother of the Unabomber telling himself that while he is certain that the bomber is his bother, he’d better not let the authorities know, because they would, then, blame him as well.

  17. Interesting how Dawn Brockman states someone has the facts wrong and goes on to share information that is short on accuracy. The current policy is relatively new, contrary to what she stated. It is also extremely broad unfortunately, which has resulted in thousands of books being moved. FOUR members of the HEPL board made this decision. Thank goodness this is just one part of Hamilton county. Reshelving a book requires board approval and the one that has received media attention needs to be voted on at a public meeting I believe. In fact, moving that one book out of thousands requires an over-ride of a ridiculous policy. Imagine having to vote for every exception. What have we become? Thank you for this article. And calling it like it is.

  18. Controlling access to the books for a particular group is just another way of banning books. One of the definitions of banned: officially exclude from a particular place. That definition usually applies to someone not something. In this case, it can be applied to books.

    Appropriate is a subjective judgement. I have always read what I wanted to read, despite being told by a librarian that I could not take out adult books. I was not yet 8 years old and had read most of the few titles in the children’s section. My mother was wise enough to let me choose what I wanted and checked them out herself. When we moved to a larger community with a much large library system, the librarian at the local branch actually set aside adult books that she thought I might enjoy. I chose from those with no oversight by my parents.

    Parents who want to protect other’s children, adults without children who want to control what children learn and when as well as those who use those issues for political gain may get what they want in the short term, but most of those children will be exposed to a very diverse world when they are adults. Their lives will be considerably complicated as they attempt to live in diverse communities.

    In the many years that I spent selling books, especially children’s and young adult books, I never made any effort to control what was offered for sale to anyone, adult or child. It was not my job nor my personal responsibility.

    Instead of tasking librarians with the responsibility of censorship, the self-appointed absolutists need to get out of the way and let parents decide what, when and how their children access reading materials.

    As the professor asks so often, “Who gets to decide?”

  19. Not all banning of books is rooted in sex. Thus, for instance, I suspect tfg would agree with the consensus sentiment today in response to Sheila’s effort as demonstrated by his provision of our national security secrets he kept in his Mar-a-Lago toilets for spies and others to peruse, thus saving Xi and Vlad some serious spy money. I agree with the majority response today but when it comes to what I will call intelligence porn I agree with the cave man who wanted the etchings on the cave wall removed. How many battle axes his tribe held is a matter of cave security and was and is no other unfriendly tribe’s business. . .

    So now even artistic enterprise is to suffer the same fate (politization) as education, medicine, and other areas of civilizing and scientific endeavor by Fauci-hating Magas (De Fascist and others) under the guise of “parental rights” and other such good-sounding names for minority rule, a minority ultimately of ONE, aka dictatorship? The answer is yes, and this is not what Madison and Jefferson had in mind when quilling our organic law, so let’s show up at library and school meetings and air our views – fearlessly.

  20. Thank you for highlighting this divisive issue in our Hamilton county communities. We need more voices in support of our public libraries!

    Per an overheard conversation on 8/18 between two conservative HEPL board members and their lawyers in a local coffee shop, the board majority is apparently planning to fire the Library Director — possibly as early as next public 8/24 meeting? This action sounds like political revenge to me, as the Director is very well qualified and dedicated to the communities’ library. The Director and her staff have only followed the flawed collection policy approved by the board. Rather than accept any responsibility for the negative, national media attention, they will ‘dump it on her’, i.e., cause for removal. Note — this is last meeting before term expires of current (conservative) HEPL board President.

  21. Dawn Brockman:
    It DOES matter where in the library these items are kept. There is a reason why most libraries have a “teen zone” or “young adult” section, distinct from the children’s area and the general collection. That’s because people who have actually studied library science (yes, that’s a thing) have realized how important it is to keep young people engaged in the reading culture during these years, and that a dedicated section helps to make that happen.
    If you create a policy that any item with a mention of certain body parts or human activities cannot be kept in the young adult section, you have decimated that collection, and broken the hook that keeps these kids involved with the library, and with reading for entertainment.
    If you as a parent want to limit what things your child is exposed to in public places, then you need to personally accompany them to those places and enforce your limits. But those parents don’t have the right to put limits on the rest of the community. The HEPL policy, as it stands, is harming the public interest.

  22. The Hamilton Co. library banned books for certain ages with the result that more teens just went over to the adult section to a check out books.

    Book banners take their cues from dictators who seek mind controls. If government can ban books, they can ban political commentary that differs from their kind of governing. Book banning is the antithesis of limited government and is anything BUT conservative.

  23. Let’s not forget that this is 100% about oligarchs and wannabe dictators riling up the ignorant to oppose education, entirely for political purposes. It is, in effect, a crusade – a holy war – and it is indistinguishable from encouraging the peasants to fight the Muslim, or burn the witch, or persecute the Jew.

    This isn’t about religion, except insofar as religion is a mechanism to control ignoramuses.

  24. Excellent commentary Sheila. I looked through the list of “reshelved” books and there were many wonderful YA novels my kids enjoyed – Looking for Alaska” also by John Green about abuse and suicide, two BIG problems for teens as well as “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” which was a lovely exploration of young death like The Fault in Our Stars”. The list clearly included lots of LGBTQ works and it made my heart ache to think one child, struggling with their sexuality, would be prevented to get different perspectives in the public library. And the wasted $300,000 was ludicrous for a small public library.

  25. I came to write out my own comment, but Mary Strinka nailed it so perfectly that I had to read it multiple times. It is so hard to keep young people engaged in books, why make it harder?

  26. Dawn Brockman , I read the article 3 times. No where did I find that Ms Kennedy said the library banned books. If you equate moving books or limiting access to banning books perhaps the problem isn’t Ms Kennedy’s lawyer skills and more of a problem with your biases and reading comprehension. Furthermore, it’s not alright to force librarians to be responsible for parenting. If a parent doesn’t want their child to read a book the parent should not let their child read a book. Expecting someone else to do that is an abdication their responsibilities as a parent of their own child.

  27. I am concerned about the misallocation of taxpayer funds at Hamilton East Public Library. It is disheartening to witness the contradictory decision of relocating books from one area of the library to another. This wastes financial resources and undermines the fundamental principle of protecting children by driving them to the adult section.
    What is particularly troubling is that Tiffanie Ditlevson, a library member who supported this wasteful expenditure, is now running for Fishers City Council. Regardless of party affiliation, we should all be alarmed by her willingness to approve spending approximately $300.000 of taxpayer money.
    Such a decision demonstrates a lack of fiscal responsibility and raises doubts about her ability to prioritize the genuine needs of the community.

Comments are closed.