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Kansas pulls CDs headed for public libraries

By The Associated Press
08.09.04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline's office this spring pulled more than 1,600 CDs by 25 artists out of shipments of CDs now headed for state libraries because officials said they promoted violence or illegal activity, such as drug use or attacks on law enforcement.

The CDs were part of 51,000 given to Kansas as part of a national consumer-protection settlement. The list of albums Kline's office removed from the shipments was obtained last week by the Associated Press through a Kansas Open Records Act request.

Among the CDs are albums by popular rap artists like OutKast and Notorious B.I.G., rock bands Rage Against the Machine and Stone Temple Pilots, and even older acts like punk legend Lou Reed and 1980s-era experimental group Devo.

The decision to remove the CDs has some free-speech advocates crying censorship.

"Phill Kline doesn't know what the music collection or audience for a particular library is," said Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas and Western Missouri. "What he's doing is enforcing his concept of decency on libraries around the state of Kansas and that's not his business."

Kline denied on Aug. 6 that he had censored the list, saying libraries can still buy the CDs rejected by his office if they want to. He said the settlement made clear that no explicit albums were to be sent to libraries, but some were included anyway.

"It's an exercise of discretion; that's different from censorship," he said. "It was a decision by the attorneys general that we would not do anything that promotes violence against women, drug violence and violence against law enforcement. I see the results of that every day.

"But people can still go buy that material if they want," Kline said.

Kline spokesman Whitney Watson said the office's consumer-protection and antitrust division vetted the list. In some cases, they were familiar enough with the albums to determine if they had questionable content. In others, they looked at Internet databases of lyrics.

"It was very unscientific, but our intention was we were not promoting gun violence or violence against women or drug use," Watson said. "Obviously we may not have caught all of the titles. We don't have the manpower to look at every album and every song lyric. But we feel we removed most of the albums that did not mesh with the values of a majority of Kansans."

In the cases of rap albums, most were versions that had already been edited for language. But Watson said they still promoted violence or drug use.

Messages left with several of the artists whose CDs were removed were not returned.

The Kansas Library Association, which advocates for public libraries, said it had looked at the attorney general's process and didn't see a problem.

"This was very similar to what libraries do all the time, which is collection management," said Rosanne Siemens, the group's executive director. "It wasn't so much an issue of taking things out but determining what would be best. They did libraries a big favor by selecting these CDs because there's no way libraries could have said what they wanted."

Kansas is one of 40 states receiving the free CDs for public libraries as part of a 2002 court settlement with the music industry over claims of CD price-fixing. Individual consumers who submitted claim forms received checks for $13.16 this spring.

Attorneys general in several other states also have screened their CDs, often removing controversial artists or albums including explicit lyrics.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, for example, removed 5,300 CDs, or 5% of the 107,000 his state was scheduled to receive.

Carolyn Anderson, associate director for central services at the Johnson County Library in Kansas, said her system already had 25,000 CDs and doesn't automatically avoid artists or albums just because of objectionable material.

Staff evaluates an album's overall artistic merit and popularity, she said.

"We don't take a particular person like Eminem and blacklist them; that would be against our principles," she said. "We look at the culture. We're not going to act as censors."

Still, libraries have largely welcomed the free CDs, which could free up budget dollars to buy other material.

Roy Bird, federal projects coordinator and public libraries consultant for the state library system, said there were no state guidelines for dealing with language or violent imagery in library materials. Those decisions typically are left up to local library systems.

But Bird felt that the CDs delivered to Kansas were diverse enough for the population, especially with such large numbers of jazz and classical music titles, which are the most popular formats, on the list.

"Rap is not popular west of Salina," he said.


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