Ban This!

What people read is their own business. So what if it's deliciously erotic, politically unpopular, or untraditional and avant-garde?

That's the philosophy of plenty of librarians and other personal-liberties enthusiasts. Freedom from censorship is also the theme of the current "Banned Books Week," which concludes Saturday. During the event, the Broward County Library proudly pulls out some of the nation's most frequently challenged books (including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Where's Waldo?) and puts them on exhibit.

The Broward County Library spotlights the hotly controversial Patriot Act, which is touted as an antiterrorism tool and bashed as being too intrusive into personal lives.

The Patriot Act's link to libraries is twofold, according to Nova Southeastern University Professor Tim Dixon, who's leading the discussion September 25 from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m. at the West Regional Library.

The act, Dixon explains, makes it easier for federal authorities to obtain a court order demanding records on what books a specific patron has checked out. That power to poke into the personal privacy of individuals and the potential abuses of that power are more bothersome than the value to law enforcement, Dixon suggests.

"In the fervor for the protection of the homeland, there can be these excesses,'' he says. "The government is supposed to be the servant of the people and not the other way around."

Even if library patrons are not under scrutiny, the Patriot Act may indirectly narrow what books they select, according to Dixon. That's a form of self-censorship that librarians don't like either. "Will people not check out a book on terrorism because people think it'll be taken wrong?'' Dixon asks.

Some libraries regularly toss out their unnecessary records. So if there's a warrant, there are few or no records to release, according to an official from the American Library Association.

The Broward County Library keeps active check-out records for four weeks, or until an overdue book is returned, according to recently hired Library Director Bob Cannon. About two decades of records are kept on tape but are not indexed, so it would not be easy to follow a particular patron's reading habits, he adds.

Cannon says he's not permitted to discuss whether federal authorities have handed him any Patriot Act warrants yet, because such information is required to be confidential.

Banned Book Week, an event established 21 years ago, is sponsored by several organizations, including the American Library Association. Other events include:

An essay contest asking participants to choose a book from the display at the North Regional/BCC Library (1100 Coconut Creek Blvd., Coconut Creek) and explain -- in 200 words or less -- its redeeming social value.

On September 25, librarian Nora Natke leads a discussion on "Who Has the Right to Decide?" at 1 p.m. at the South Regional/BCC Library (7300 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines).

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Patti Roth