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Cook Memorial Public Library District. Materials Challenge: Angels in America. Cook Memorial Public Library. Approximately 35 miles north of Chicago District serves Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Green Oaks and part of Mundelein Main library in Libertyville

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cook memorial public library district

Cook Memorial Public Library District

Materials Challenge:

Angels in America

cook memorial public library
Cook Memorial Public Library
  • Approximately 35 miles north of Chicago
  • District serves Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Green Oaks and part of Mundelein
    • Main library in Libertyville
    • Branch location in Vernon Hills
    • Bookmobile
  • District population 60,069
  • Annual circulation 1,685,000
  • Collection size 287,102
  • Registered cardholders 50,502
angels in america
Angels in America

“…the most thrilling American play in years…”

The New York Times

May 5, 1993

angels in america1
Angels in America

Play in two parts by Tony Kushner

  • Part One: Millennium Approaches
  • Part Two: Perestroika

First produced on Broadway in 1993

Opened to critical acclaim; performed

in repertory through 1994

Multitude of awards, including:

  • 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Millennium Approaches)
  • 1993 and 1994 Tony Awards for Best Play
angels in america2
Angels in America

Six-hour HBO film version released 2003

Director: Mike Nichols

Stars: Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and

Emma Thompson

Critical success:

5 Golden Globes

11 Emmys: Outstanding Miniseries

DVD released in 2004

angels in america3
Angels in America

Setting: New York City, 1985-1986

Salt Lake City


Heaven(San Francisco)

Three interconnecting stories:

  • Gay couple; one of whom has

been recently diagnosed with AIDS

  • Young Mormon lawyer coming to terms with his sexuality and its impact on his marriage
  • Fictionalized portrayal of controversial attorney Roy Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986
angels in america4
Angels in America

Dramedy contains a host of mature themes:

Ignorance of the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic

Politics: McCarthyism, Conservatism

Frank language

Drug addiction


  • Homosexuality/Sexual Identity
  • Religion: WASP’s, Jews, Mormons
  • Racism
  • Nudity/Sexual situations
  • Greed/Abuse of power
angels in america5
Angels in America
  • Play debuted (and published) in 1993
  • Film released 2003
  • Combined paperback edition of the plays published in 2003. Today, it is in its 11th printing.
  • Plays continue to be produced around the world
  • Works enter pantheon of American classics
angels in america6
Angels in America

So – why a challenge in 2008?

prelude to the challenge
Prelude to The Challenge

Deerfield High School, March 2008:

  • The play Angels in America was listed as required reading in AP literature class offered to Seniors
  • Inclusion of the play in the curriculum protested by Christian group North Shore Student Advocacy (NSSA)
  • Believed profanity, sexual situations, overt racism, etc., made it inappropriate for children
  • Play dropped as required reading in AP course; retained as optional reading
  • Group’s challenge attracted local media attention
prelude to the challenge1
Prelude to The Challenge

“This isn’t a First Amendment issue. This is about school officials betraying the community trust. Heads need to roll here. Assigning this racist, pornographic smut to high school kids is nothing short of child abuse.”

Matthew Barber

Concerned Women for America

Source: News Sun, March 7, 2008

the challenge april 2008
The Challenge – April 2008

Patron approaches circulation staff at CMPLD with

NSSA literature from Deerfield H.S. challenge

CMPLD Director receives a letter from patron

requesting removal of the play and the DVD

Angels in America from the District’s collection

Patron identified

  • Not a regular library user
  • Known to library staff and admins as

community activist

  • Sensitivity re: circumstances surrounding challenge

After initial contact, patron submits formal challenge

the challenge april 20081
The Challenge – April 2008

Patron complaints about the play and film:

  • Vulgar and offensive
  • Depicts men as less than human
  • Obscene

Specific references to content not made

Unclear as to whether patron had seen

or read the play or watched the film

the challenge april 20082
The Challenge – April 2008

Director review vs. Materials Review Committee

Materials Review Committee formed

  • Careful consideration given to

make-up of committee

  • Four librarians, two Trustees

Formal review process begins

review april may 2008
Review – April/May 2008

Each member of Committee read the play and watched the film

Collection Development Policy ideals/criteria reviewed

Additional materials reviewed by the Committee:

  • Publication history
  • Professional reviews
  • Award history
  • Library holdings/circulation stats
  • Review of obscenity statutes
  • Conference with Illinois State’s Attorney
decision june 2008
Decision – June 2008

Were materials acquired in accordance with Policy?

Materials selection criteria applied:

  • Considered by theater scholars to be notable work
  • Vitality and originality
  • Artistic presentation
  • Unique style
  • Articulates a challenging point

of view

  • Serves as historic document
decision june 20081
Decision – June 2008

Are the materials vulgar and offensive?

  • No doubt that materials contain frank language and mature themes with potential to offend
  • “Frankness of language and/or subject are considered [when adding titles to the collection] but will not in and of themselves disqualify a work from being selected.”
decision june 20082
Decision – June 2008

Are materials obscene?

  • Patron’s claim based on News Sun article:
    • NSSA spokesperson claimed that Lake County State’s Attorney said that the materials violated the State’s obscenity statutes
    • Unable to corroborate statement/findings
    • Contradictory statements in article
  • Review of obscenity statutes
    • Conversation with Illinois State’s Attorney
    • Reassurance that the works “did not violate any criminal statutes.”
decision june 20083
Decision – June 2008

Committee reached a unanimous decision to retain both the play and the film in the library’s collection

Committee’s findings:

  • “…obligation that librarians have to select and support access to materials that meet the needs and interests of all persons in a library district.”
  • District’s Collection Development Policy supports both the acquisition and retention of the works in question
decision june 20084
Decision – June 2008
  • Final report prepared
  • Director supplied copies to patron and Board of Trustees
  • Patron did not request hearing

before Board of Trustees

  • Matter considered resolved
additional comments
Additional Comments
  • Assistant Director believes Policy served Committee well
  • No changes or refinements were made to the Policy as a result of the challenge
  • Assistant Director believes requirement that objections to material be submitted in a letter vs. a standard form makes formal challenges less likely
cmpld collection development policy
CMPLD Collection Development Policy

Link to CMPLD’s Collection Development Policy: