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Huntington Beach Public Library begins children’s book recataloging process

Librarians take books off the shelves for possible recategorization.
Librarians take books off the shelves for recategorization on Wednesday at the Huntington Beach Central Library.
(Courtesy of Carol Daus)
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The Huntington Beach Public Library on Wednesday began the task of recataloging some books from the children’s section due to sexual content.

Librarians at the Central Library physically removed books from the shelves as part of a process decreed by the conservative City Council majority last fall with Resolution No. 2023-41.

Huntington Beach public affairs manager Jennifer Carey said that as librarians identify a book that needs to be relocated as a part of the resolution, they will take that title from the children’s section shelf and recatalog it into the adult section.

“Nothing is being removed from the library, but they will take it off the shelf to conduct the administrative work that it entails to recatalog the book,” Carey said. “Often times, that means the book will be back on the shelf within that business day, but there are some times where it could take up to two business days for it to be back on the shelf.”

Carey said there have been many meetings with library staff to outline what the process will look like.

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The resolution states the City Council is concerned that some books are either obscene or pornographic, and it defines those terms. “Obscene” is defined as material that portrays sexual content in a patently offensive way without serious literary, artistic political or scientific value. “Pornography” is defined as the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement.

Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, center, shown last October, spearheaded the library book review resolution.
Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, center, shown last October, spearheaded the library book review resolution.
(File Photo)

The resolution, passed after a tense meeting with more than five hours of public comments last October, also created a to-be-formed parent and guardian review board of up to 21 members. The committee’s job will be to review children’s books to make sure they’re suitable for that section’s shelves.

“If there are books where there’s confusion or they’re uncertain if this falls within the guidelines of the resolution, that would be the purpose of the committee,” Carey said. “The committee would come on board, discuss and make that determination.”

One professional librarian familiar with the process, who asked for anonymity due to fear of backlash, said the work was expected to start in the 600s section, which is the health section, before moving through the entire Dewey Decimal System.

“It’s hard to understand what the review process looks like,” the librarian said. “Because ‘sexual content’ is undefined — there’s no consistent definition of what that means — this is going to affect tons of books. There’s no way for librarians to conduct an electronic search for sexual content because that’s not a defined library science term ... The librarians are forced to go through the books one by one.

“What you’re seeing from the city is a vast misunderstanding or lack of understanding, lack of curiosity on how library processes work.”

Huntington Beach residents cheer and hold signs during a October 2023 City Council meeting.
Huntington Beach residents cheer and hold signs during a October 2023 City Council meeting where screening of library books was discussed.
(File Photo)

Huntington Beach resident Carol Daus, a board member of Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library, was at the Central Library on Wednesday morning and watched the librarians move books off the shelves and eventually into an adult section on the fourth floor.

She said the library has been a go-to place for her family, as she raised three children in the city.

“We love our libraries,” she said. “This is February, and they’re using that in their promotion on their city calendar [for ‘We Love Our Libraries Month’]. How can you do that, when you’re removing so many books from the collection? ... I’m very concerned about what’s happening, as not just a Friends of the Library member but also as a resident of this community.”

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