Niki Kelly: Book banning, reshelving have reached ridiculous heights


For several years, I have heard ridiculous allegations that school and public libraries’ shelves are brimming with pornography and obscenity.

But I think it’s clear now the censorship goes much further than that — to the detriment of society as a whole.

Concerned parents are pushing the issue too far under the guise of protecting kids from smut.

Indianapolis author John Green last week brought national attention to an ongoing attempt by the Hamilton East Public Library to move young adult books to adult sections. And while he got a reversal, hundreds of other books have been similarly mislabeled. The issue is far from over.

The turnover of four appointments last year at the Hamilton East Public Library introduced new members — including conservative hardliner and pastor Micah Beckwith — who set their sights on limiting access to books, especially in the children’s and young adult section.

The board passed a new policy that focused on profanity, violence and crime — even listing specific crimes and curse words that are unacceptable for younger readers.

The Indianapolis Star reported the shelves of the Teen Zone were gutted as librarians and staff conducted a review of thousands of books expected to cost the library system serving Fishers and Noblesville around $300,000.

And make no mistake, reshelving materials in ill-suited library sections is censorship all on its own.

Green learned on social media his bestseller, “The Fault in Our Stars,” had been moved to the adult section. The coming-of-age book chronicles the lives of two teens living with terminal cancer diagnoses.

Yes, there are a few curse words and the teens have sex, but it is not explicit — and it’s milder than anything teens could easily find online today.

Green called the move “ridiculous” and wrote a scathing letter to the board. Hamilton East Public Library Board President Laura Alerding blamed the removal on the library staff, whom she said misinterpreted the board’s new book relocation policy. Alerding has since been replaced as a library board member.

First off, the decision was made due to a policy the board passed. Blaming the librarian is a farce.

And second, what about the hundreds of other books that were moved at that location?

Another example? Judy Blume’s “Forever,” which has been on teen shelves for decades, is the story of a young woman’s first love. It depicts teen sexuality in an honest and open way.

Beckwith — who is also running for lieutenant governor as a Republican — was asked why the book was moved to the adult section during a recent live Facebook show called Mouthwash.

“That’s the policy of the library director who put that in action,” he said, sidestepping the question.

And how about the nonfiction young adult book “Attucks” by Phillip Hoose? It tells the true story of the all-Black Indianapolis high school basketball team that broke the color barrier in segregated 1950s Indiana.

But at the Hamilton East library, teens will have to go to the adult section to find it. That’s because all young adult nonfiction was moved last year to general nonfiction after complaints from parents.

I hope other libraries in the state are watching carefully and avoid similar missteps trying to please a vocal minority. I have no patience for limitations on speech, and that includes books. Yes, teens have sex. Yes, racism happens. Yes, crimes occur. If parents want to hide those truths from their own children, then fine, monitor the books they check out and use parental controls on phones and televisions.

But stop taking it to the public library, where books of all stripes should be available for the general public.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of, where this commentary previously appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected].

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