No invisibility cloak needed for library restricted collections


The restricted section of the Hogwarts’ library in “Harry Potter” keeps dangerous and secret books out of the reach of curious students. Students like Harry, Ron and Hermione can only access books in the restricted section with a note from a professor, as some contain powerful dark magic or books otherwise inappropriate for young wizards and witches.

Library restricted sections aren’t just found in fiction. The Harold B. Lee Library, Orem Public Library and Provo City Library all have collections not readily available to library patrons, though each library has distinct procedures to determine which content is restricted and why.

The Harold B. Lee Library has a restricted collection but no binding, written policy on the items that belong in the collection. The restricted collection items at the Orem Public Library, on the other hand, are determined by a clear-cut library policy. The Provo City Library keeps its special collections off-limits but does not restrict any items due to explicit content.  

Limited-use collections are far from simple. According to Provo City Library Manager Carla Gordon, libraries strive to have materials available for all types of people in the community while also being responsive to community values.

“On the one side, your community wants you to make sure that you’re not letting a teenager get a hold of something that the parent doesn’t feel is appropriate,” Gordon said. “On the other hand, professionally, we believe in freedom of information for everyone. … In a community like ours, it’s really hard to walk that fine line.”

Harold B. Lee Library 

The Harold B. Lee Library’s “restricted section” is called locked case.

“I’ll be honest, I’d heard about it for years,” said library Communications Director Roger Layton, “and when I finally saw it, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to find all sorts of witchcraft and whatever books, and it’s just … books.”

According to Layton, unlike the restricted section at Hogwarts, locked case exists to protect books from vandalism, destruction and theft, not to keep books away from students. Students can check out any book from locked case, but must pick it up from the library’s circulation desk.

“People often think locked cases are for hiding books and things,” Layton said. “Locked cases are actually there to protect books that we think will be lost or damaged, probably by patrons.”

Books stored in locked case — which is a physical locked room located in the HBLL — include rare books, brittle books and books with small parts that could be easily lost, according to Layton. He estimates locked case is home to approximately 2,000 books.

For example, locked case houses a series of paperback sci-fi books with covers that have original art, costly pop-up books used by education students and oddly sized books that wouldn’t fit the regular shelves well.

(Ty Mullen)
Harold B. Lee Library Communications Manager Roger Layton gives a tour of the library’s locked case on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Locked case contains rare, fragile and expensive books. A small number of books in locked case are placed there because of sensitive content. (Ty Mullen)

However, Layton said a small percentage of books reside in locked case because of explicit content. Some potentially controversial books in locked case include “Human sexuality,” which details biological and cultural perspectives of sexuality; “Splitting,” a case study of a woman convinced she had male sexual organs; and “Sex in literature,” a book by John Atkins. 

Layton said books with sensitive content are placed in locked case to protect the book, as some readers may cover nudity or cross out offensive language.

“In the past, people would take it upon themselves to censor books or steal things from books,” Layton said. “By putting it in locked case, it’s just a little more protected.”

Although locked case doesn’t exist to keep controversial books away from students, librarians have the liberty to choose which books from their collections are placed in locked case. According to Layton, there is no written standard or guideline on what librarians should place in locked case.

Education librarian Rachel Wadham said the majority of the books she places in locked case are expensive books or books with small parts. However, she does place some books in locked case because of content.

“There is a very small number that we do put in (locked case) because of sensitive content,” Wadham said. “But that is only because they are aimed at a juvenile audience, and that can get a little tricky, especially when authors are pushing some extreme boundaries.”

Media Center

The Harold B. Lee Library’s Media Center is home to the faculty use only collection, which contains movies deemed inappropriate for students, including R or NC-17 rated movies, that only faculty members can check out. 

According to a 2004 article from The Daily Universe, students could previously check out R-rated movies from the Media Center, though the process was difficult. Starting in March 2004, library officials tightened the policy so only faculty members can check out R-rated movies.

According to Media Center Manager Cyndee Frazier, many movies in the collection are foreign films or unrated films.

“They are not for faculty to watch, they are for faculty to use in their classes,” Frazier said about the movies. “Maybe there’s something that they think is appropriate for the course that they are teaching … in an R-rated movie that they would use in their class.”

Similar to locked case, there is no written guideline or policy to determine what content will land a movie in the faculty use only collection. Frazier said a Theatre and Media Arts professor routinely flags content that may be inappropriate for students.

“It’s only by faculty request that we even have any of these movies, because the library doesn’t purchase R-rated movies for our regular Media Center content that anyone can check out,” Frazier said.

Notable examples of movies in the faculty use only collection include “Schindler’s List” and “Braveheart.” “Titanic,” which is rated PG-13, is also in the collection.   

Faculty members cannot send student proxies or use the faculty delivery service to obtain content from the faculty use only collection.

Orem Public Library

The Orem Public Library has two types of collections similar to the Harold B. Lee Library’s locked case. The closed stacks collection houses items at physical risk. The restricted collection contains content restricted to patrons 18 and older. 

According to Orem Library Manager Josh Sorensen, items in the restricted collection are typically available on the shelves, though patrons must show ID at checkout. 

“It’s to ensure that the items are reaching the intended audience,” Sorensen said. “We try to rely on industry standards and professional reviews to establish those standards. So it’s not really in the hands of our librarians, but it’s more responding to the documented intents of our collection and their reception in our community.”

Orem library staff follows the library’s collection development policy to designate books or movies to the restricted collection. According to the policy, the restricted collection contains R-rated movies, items with an age recommendation from the publisher, items with sexually explicit content and items with explicit language.

2018 Collection Development Policy

“Some library materials are shelved in general children and teen sections. The library does not presume to claim from parents and guardians the responsibility to determine what content is appropriate for children and teenagers,” the policy says. “Materials in other sections of the library are not concealed to prevent access by children or teenagers.”

Sorensen said no questions are asked when a patron checks out material from the restricted or closed stack collections.

“It’s challenging. We want to make sure that we are serving the patron’s needs without putting up any barriers to entry,” Sorensen said. “And so we do try to make the transaction as smooth as possible for our patrons and make sure that we have both items available to whoever’s interested.”

At the Orem library, community members who disagree with the placement of a book in a collection can request for librarians to reassess the placement.

Listen to the full interview with Josh Sorensen:

Provo City Library at Academy Square

The Provo City Library at Academy Square handles limited access content a bit differently than the Harold B. Lee Library and Orem Public Library. The library has special collections but no locked case.

According to Provo City Library Manager Carla Gordon, the library’s special collections section contains books unique to Provo history. Special collections items cannot be checked out so they can be accessible to anyone, anytime.

Graphic by Jenna Alton

“We try to get things that are really specific to Provo history, though sometimes that will include Utah history and history of the West as it relates to Provo,” Gordon said.

The library’s Material Selections Policy does not specifically mention special collections, but librarians reference a non-binding set of guidelines that helps them decide how to best add to the collection.

According to the guidelines, the special collections include items of local history and interest, Utah and regional history, and theology and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Provo Library had a locked case until about 20 years ago when current library director Gene Nelson took over, Gordon said. 

“(Nelson) says if we don’t feel like something is appropriate for people to find, then we shouldn’t have it,” Gordon said. “He has felt really strongly that we shouldn’t have a locked case. The only thing that we lock up are things that we value and want to have available all the time.”

There are certain materials the library does not collect due to community values, Gordon said. However, library staff chooses to collect content based on the entire work rather than a small part that may be considered inappropriate.  

“We hope that people can go to a library and find the things that are appropriate for them and kind of be responsible for their own consumption of the materials they’re looking at,” Gordon said. 

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