One library's alternative to book banning

When a book offends, what's a library to do? Keep it on the shelves – and risk the wrath and upset of some patrons? Or remove it – and raise serious questions about censorship and intellectual freedom?According to the New York Times, the Brooklyn Public Library is trying to navigate a type of middle path as it deals with the controversial "Tintin au Congo" by Belgian comics writer Hergé. The Tintin books are a – mostly – beloved series about the adventures of young reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy. Tintin and Snowy are only likely to become more popular in America as they become the stars of a Steven Spielberg film set for release in 2011.

But the 79-year-old "Tintin au Congo" depicts Africans in a fashion that many readers find offensive and a Brooklyn library patron registered a formal complaint. So in an effort to keep the book off the shelves without making it entirely inaccessible, the library has moved it to a back room where it is held under lock and key and can be seen only by appointment.

It's an unusual move – and it marks the first time the library has taken such action, despite the numerous controversial titles among its collection. (The Times notes that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" can be found on its shelves, no appointment needed.)

To become too responsive to public discomfort can put a library in very tight straits. (The Times mentions one library that banned children's classic "Eloise in Paris" after a parent became upset because the children in the story visit a museum with a nude statue.)

And yet the public library is just that – an institution that serves the public. “You do walk a fine line, making sure your materials are accessible, while being respectful of community standards,’’ Alice Knapp, a former president of the Connecticut Library Association, told the Times.

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