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'Hate speech' tag irks Mount Prospect library patron
By Sheila Ahern | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/18/2009 12:00 AM

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Mike Alaimo thinks Ann Coulter should know what's going on with her books at the Mount Prospect library.

"I probably won't hear back, but I e-mailed her this week," he said.

Earlier this month, the Mount Prospect resident was scrolling through his library's online catalog when he came across a list of books by Ann Coulter, a prominent conservative pundit whose works include "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" and "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans."

Someone had tagged "hate speech" on virtually every listing, Alaimo said.

"I don't understand why the library is letting people make political statements on their site," said Alaimo, a political conservative. "By not taking it off, the library is agreeing with it."

Library officials disagree.

In July, the library started a new cataloging system that allows readers to "tag" books with terms they think other readers might find useful, said Marilyn Genther, executive director of the Mount Prospect Public Library.

For example, someone tagged Dan Brown's popular novel "Angels & Demons" with the terms "Papacy" and "Vatican City," which are both themes in the book.

"It's just a way for the average person to describe a book, and for readers to zero in on different material," said Cathy Deane, Mount Prospect's deputy director of public services.

However, readers could also add totally irrelevant tags to Brown's book such as "pickles" and the library won't remove them, Genther said.

The library doesn't monitor the tags too closely and will remove tags only if they contain explicit material or racial slurs, Deane said.

Alaimo said the tags appear under each book's call number and look like they were added by library officials. In several e-mails to Mount Prospect library officials, Alaimo said an online book catalog isn't the place for political banter.

"If the library wants to start a dialogue, they should start a Twitter page," he said.

Arlington Heights Memorial Library patrons can also tag books online, but they must write a review first, said Deb Whisler, the library's spokeswoman.

In addition, the Arlington Heights tags are written by both readers and the library staff, Whisler said.

"We've had this system for a while, more than a year, and haven't have any complaints," she said.

The American Library Association doesn't have a policy when it comes to tagging online listings, according to a spokesman.

"Tagging is steadily increasing because clearly people want to participate and express their opinions," said Sari Feldman, an Ohio library director and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the ALA. "These decisions are all made on the local level where librarys have to make a policy. It's too bad when one or two people break the rules when 99 percent of people use the library's tools exactly the way they're supposed to be used."

In the Mount Prospect system, the only requirements to tag are that the reader register by creating a user name and e-mail address.

Rosemary Groenwald, head of the library's technical services, said Alaimo's complaint is the only one the library has received since the new system started in July.

"There is nothing stopping this patron from going in and tagging (Coulter's books) with 'free speech' to even it out," Groenwald said.

It's something Alaimo is considering.

"I don't know, I may go and tag something," he said. "I'm thinking about it."