Commissioners: Censorship is not our job

Commissioner DG Reardon holds up the 135 page process used by the Campbell County Public Library to acquire new books and circulate out old books (Ryan Lewallen/County 17).

Community encouraged to use proper process to protest library literature

Demands to remove LGBTQ-related books from the children’s and young adult sections at the local library were not met during Thursday’s special meeting between the library board and the Campbell County commissioners.

It is an issue that has surfaced many times over in recent weeks as a group of outspoken residents has repeatedly confronted the commission, and the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) Board, demanding they take action to remove LGBTQ literature they feel is inappropriate for juveniles.

That job, however, does not fall to the commissioner’s, according to Campbell County Commissioner DG Reardon, who said during the Aug. 12 meeting that the commissioner’s job is to appoint county board members who can make those decisions and to make sure those decisions are done fairly in accordance with the processes already in place.

“One of the things that we see a lot, usually on the one side and not on the other, is the question regarding what we have done,” Reardon said. “We also get comments like ‘do your job’ or ‘do what’s right.’ A commissioner’s job is not to monitor or censure books in the library. A commissioner’s job is to choose a board.”

He added that each library board member, selected from dozens of applications for each seat, was selected through a democratic process by the commission and is expected to move forward and do their job, just like with any other county board.

Part of that job is upholding and adhering to select processes, such as choosing new literature, circulating out old or unpopular literature, and providing a means for the public to air grievances with existing library material and seek resolution.

The process to effectively protest a book at the library does not start with roadside protests and making angry outbursts during meetings.

CCPL Director Terry Leslie said the correct process starts with a verbal complaint to library management.

The library manager will try to resolve the problem verbally, but if resolution is not possible then the patron will be asked to put their request in writing using a “request for reconsideration of library materials form,” Leslie said.

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The form will then be reviewed by Leslie herself and, once a decision is made, a response will be sent to the complainant notifying them of that decision. If the patron is still not satisfied, they can appeal the decision to the CCPL Board, which is the ultimate authority in deciding whether a book stays on the shelf or is removed, according to Leslie.

Reardon said that he believed the library has done an excellent job and the job of the commissioners, then, is to support that board, their processes, and their decisions.

“But censorship is not our job. That is not the commissioner’s job,” Reardon said, asking if the county begins to censure books that have anything to do with LGBTQ+, where does that censorship end?

The library collection covers a wide variety of topics, any number of which could prove offensive to somebody, he continued, asking if that means every book needs to be removed from the library.

Kids can access anything they want on their smartphones and tablets, including every topic in the public library, he said, which makes it more imperative that parents do their jobs and keep things out of the hands of children that they shouldn’t have.

“We need to take responsibility for our actions, for our kids’ actions and our grandkids’ actions, and stop talking about censuring, taking books out, burning books, and going back to the days of the Nazis,” Reardon said.

The commissioner’s words made at least one attendee’s blood boil.

“No one’s saying that!” Kevin Bennet protested. “I’m leaving. Nobody’s saying that. No one said censorship. We said put them all in the adult section. You’re a liar!”

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Bennet was escorted out of the room by a Campbell County Sheriff’s deputy, but his outburst comes weeks after previous assurances during a protest last month in front of the CCPL where he said his group was not against all books in the library, just books that indoctrinate kids into the LGBTQ community and using taxpayer dollars to do so.

One book that was mentioned during the meetings, parts of which were read to the CCPL board during a separate meeting, was This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, a young adult non-fiction title that answers questions about sexuality and gender as an instructional manual for new or prospective LGBTQ+ members or curious readers, according to a synopsis of the book published on the CCPL online card catalog.

Commissioner Del Shelstad asked each library board member to answer whether they thought a book like This Book is Gay is appropriate for Campbell County youth or not.

All but one CCPL member declined to answer citing unfamiliarity with the title and it’s contents. Board member Mandy Steward, however, said that she had reviewed the material and did not find it appropriate.

“It seems to me, the formal challenge process has been started because of the public comments from the community,” Shelstad said, a statement that drew several loud protests from the attendees. “I would say that we need to take a look at this book whether this form has been filled out or not.”

CCPL Board Chairwoman Hollie Stewart did not agree.

“If you want to get divorced in the State of Wyoming, you don’t get to just go stand on the courthouse steps and say ‘divorce me now’,” she said. “You have to file the paperwork. You have to make your claim. You have to allow the other side to also collect their thoughts and make their claims as well.”

But no one has done that yet; aside from a single form filed several years ago, there has not been a single CCPL Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form submitted.

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“Somebody fill out the form. Let’s start going down this list and we’ll do the process and procedure,” Reardon said. “But don’t tell us we’re not doing our job. We are doing our job. Our job is primarily to listen.

The time for public comment has passed, Commission Chairman Bob Maul added, but this will not be the last time the topic will be discussed.

“You can send all the hate mail you want but frankly, you waste our time with that stuff when we could actually be doing some kind of work,” he said, stating that he gets between 35 and 40 such emails a day that he doesn’t intend to respond to. “We’ve heard you. We’ve given you an opportunity to talk. Now it’s time for us to get to work and you guys to see what happens. If you don’t like what we do, then vote us out.”