Mystery reader is censoring swear words at Layton library

Published: Wednesday, July 21 2004 2:57 p.m. MDT

Oh my heck! Someone is "cleansing" the "Murder, She Wrote" mystery book series in the Central Davis Branch of the Davis County Library in Layton.

An unknown culprit has meticulously edited swear words out of some of the series' books.

Swear words have been crossed out and replaced with milder words, like "darn," "gosh" or "heck," written in black, purple, green and even pink ink.

In recent months, Charlene Heckert of Layton found five of the 10 "Murder She Wrote" books that she has read censored for content.

"It bothers me 'cause I'm trying to read a book," Heckert said. "It's distracting."

Pete Giacoma, director of the Davis County Library System, said this is a rare situation. Occasionally readers might write their opinions of a book in the margin but usually not this type of censorship.

"The reality is, catching a person doing it is hard," he said. "Proving it is even harder."

Giacoma worries that some readers might mistakenly assume that the library censors books this way.

But the added purple — and black and pink and green— prose is an act of vandalism, the same as graffiti. It's a crime, a class B misdemeanor, punishable of up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail on conviction, the library director said.

If anyone finds such editing or vandalism, "contact us and let us know," Giacoma said.

Library staff deals with so many books every day that they can't possibly inspect each one thoroughly, he said.

Jim Cooper, director of the Salt Lake County Library System, said he's not aware of similar editing in the county system, while Karen Johnson, manager of the circulation department for the Salt Lake City Library, said some type of writing happens to library books everywhere.

"Sometimes folks check out a test book and simply can't help themselves from taking the tests. Fortunately, they generally use pencil," she said.

She said most people value the library resources and take care of the materials they borrow.

"I've only seen this kind of deliberate damage once in the seven years that I've been doing fiction collection development," said Roy Bailey, the fiction librarian of the Main Salt Lake City Library. "With the situation here, the damage was such that the books had to be discarded. The person used a marker to mark out the offending words."


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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