ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With more than four million items in circulation, there’s no shortage of media people can get their hands on inside Albuquerque’s public library branches.
But along with a diverse collection, the library is also home to a few things that some people think the public shouldn’t have access to and have asked the library to remove for good.
It doesn’t happen often, but since 2012, the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County library system has received nine complaints about a total of 13 different items available for check out. The complaints range from concerns about violence and sexual content to perceptions that content has been censored, and in one case, a complaint that the content is too “stupid” for the library.
Libraries are still widely used in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. More than two million people visited the area’s 18 different library branches last year. Roughly half of Bernalillo County’s 674,000 people have library cards.
“Our collections reflect the interests of the community,” said Dean Smith, director of the Public Library for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
While he doesn’t deal directly with the process of reviewing and responding to complaints, Smith called it a difficult task in dealing with complaints.
“Well it’s always a very difficult situation because it’s a very serious situation,” Smith. “You know, it’s taken seriously.”
The complaint process isn’t widely publicized. There appears to be no mention of the process on the Public Library’s website. Copies of the complaints on file were only made available to KRQE News 13 after filing a formal public records request with the City of Albuquerque’s Cultural Services Department, which oversees the library.
Officially, complaints about library content are called “requests for reconsideration of materials.” The complaint process uses a one-page form that allows customers to explain why they objected to the material, if they have any other suggestions of material to replace it, and what they think the library should do with the item. The library offers four options: “do not expose it to my child”, “re-evaluate the material”, “withdraw it from the library” and “other.”
“Not everything that’s here is going to be for everybody,” said Smith.
Out of the nine complaints filed since 2012, people have raised issues with general fiction, an audio book, several DVD movies, even a couple children’s books. In most cases, people asked for the library to remove the materials for good. In other cases, people asked for the content to be held behind a counter, or with an extra warning.
One parent complained about the pre-K book titled, “Dinosaur Kisses.” Aimed at making kids laugh, the book shows a bumbling dinosaur learning how to “stomp,” “chomp,” and kiss. The parent asked the library to get rid of the book, and instead substitute it with something showing, “that kissing is sweet, kind and gentle.”
The same parent complained about the behavior of two arguing friends in the children’s book titled, “Two Bunny Buddies,” saying the book’s content wasn’t good for kids to see.
The library chose to keep both children’s books on the shelf.
“We had one request there was a concern about a title that they thought was censored,” said Smith.
That request came in 2013 regarding the fictional novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” by Ernest Hemmingway. The complainant thought the library was carrying a censored copy of the book which contains several word substitutions in place of obscene language. However, as the library discovered through research, those substitutions are what the author originally intended.
“There can be violent images in movies, content that people think is not appropriate for children,” said Smith.
Seven DVDs have been the subject of complaints, including “Jackass: The Movie,” and its two sequels, which were called “stupid and obscene.” A foreign film titled, “Tras el Cristal” (In a Glass Cage) drew a complaint for showing “graphic violence against a child.” Other movies including “Pusher,” “Pusher 2,” and “About Cherry” were also the subject of complaints, with claims that the movies were “pornographic,” or contained “explicit sexual content” that’s not suitable for minors.
The concern over adult content being shown to children is typically the common thread in the formal complaints the library has received.
More recently, someone complained about “Inked” magazine, which features articles and photos related to tattooing. The complainant called the magazine “pornographic” and feared that kids could see revealing photos of women on the magazine’s cover, which sits on an open shelf with dozens of other magazines.
In the case of “Inked” magazine and every other complaint that’s been filed at the library in the last five years, the library hasn’t made a single change in response.
However, the library says each complaint is thoroughly reviewed and responded to when contact information is left. A three-person panel looks at the material in question. That panel includes the manager of the library’s division of “Material Support Services,” the collection development assistant for Material Support Services,” and the library staff member who selects the subject area or format of the material in question.
“They meet, look at reviews … see what other public libraries have and think about the context of the work, and make a response to the customer,” said Smith.
The library’s records indicate that staff responded to complaints within a time frame of as quick as one day, to as long as two months.
While some parents have expressed concerns over minors accessing adult content in the library, the library administration says there are precautions they take to ensure child safety. First, no child under 10 is allowed to be in the library without an adult.
Secondly, the library also points to the separation of children’s materials and materials geared towards adults. Movies, music, magazine and books are all in separate sections of the library away from the kid’s section.
“If you’re concerned about any images your child might see, we have a children’s room that everything in that room is aimed at that age level,” said Smith.
Ultimately, Smith says the library believes it’s a parent’s responsibility to keep track of what their kid is getting into.
“We believe that it’s the parent’s right of every child to make a decision about what’s appropriate for their child, and what one parent thinks is appropriate is going to be different from what another parent thinks is appropriate,” said Smith.
Smith also says it’s not often that library staff finds kids outside of the areas for children.
“Most children… there’s a reason for children’s materials because they are of interest to children, and… I think you’ll find most materials for children are there because they are of more attraction to children, and adult materials usually aren’t an attraction to children,” said Smith. “We as adults look at that very differently than what a child brings to things, that you know… are adult, mostly they’re just going to see boring.”
KRQE News 13 attempted to speak with all of the people who filed complaints and left contact information. The people KRQE News 13 heard from either didn’t want to go on camera or said their complaint didn’t really matter to them anymore.
The Public Library of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County says customers also have the option of protesting the library’s final decision on complaints up to administration. According to Smith, no one has done that in the 10 years he’s been the director.