Commissioner, teacher raise concerns regarding books at library

Commissioner Del Shelstad address the board. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

The Campbell County Commissioners on a regular basis now get an earful from residents regarding questionable books. It’s a common theme twice a month now at the twice-monthly public meetings at the courthouse

The commissioners had their regular meeting Tuesday morning and were greeted with more concern about the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) and the content available to young readers. This time, it was a commissioner that made his first note of concerns with a book and the due process.

The ongoing issues facing the library, its staff and its board is that inappropriate books are shelved in the youth and teen sections. Most of the challenged books are to have them reshelved to the adult section rather than removed completely from the library.

So far, all challenges have been denied in the last month. There have been two dozen book challenges in the last eight weeks, and there are many more to come.

Before the public comment portion of the meeting, commissioner Del Shelstad intervened during the regular business portion to share a recent experience he had with the library processes. It came across a lot like what members of the community have been sharing as of late.

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“I wanted to bring this board and our community up to speed on my personal experience with one of the books I challenged. I don’t mean to make it sound like I challenged more than one book, I challenged one book only,” he explained. “I received a letter from the collection manager of the library that my challenge was denied. Just for full transparency, my challenge was to move the book from the youth section to an adult section because of the material within the book which I consider to be pornographic, to be honest with you.”

Commissioner Shelstad said he received a reply to his challenged book within the time frame set for the first step of the process. He noted it had a lot of words but very little valuable information.
“I got the letter, read the letter. It was fairly lengthy,” said Shelstad, adding that more than a page of explanation offered little to no explanation on why it was denied. “It was more ‘to cover your butt’ than it was explaining why my challenge was denied.”

After that, he called the library chairwoman and explained his experience. He was told of the entire process which is just not filing a complaint but rather a three-layer process that can take nearly four months to complete, which was not brought up at a recent special meeting with the commissioners and the library board.

“My concern Mr. Chairman is this: Knowing this is a key topic in our community right now and there is a lot of concerns from both sides, we have to be able to understand this is something that is causing some conflict in our community,” Shelstad said. “To think that 120 days later we could end up no further along (with a challenge) than when we started, I’m considered about that. I’m concerned that the library board itself has absolutely no involvement in this process at all until the very end. Because this is creating division in our community, I would hope that the library board would change its stance on that. They have had ample time to help us come up with a solution to this issue. In my opinion this situation is only going to fester and get worse until our board has some involvement.”

Later in the meeting when it was the chance for the public to speak, commissioners heard from several concern citizens. One was Susan Bennett, a local educator of three decades.

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“I know all of you have a very grave responsibility and very important positions that I don’t envy at all. I want to thank those of you who have gotten informed and who have gotten involved and have seen the gravity of this issue that we have been presenting the last few months,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to be here today and don’t want to ever be here, but I am taking the time because it’s important. Because children matter. I’m a child advocate. I don’t how many professional people who have worked with children are in this room, but I know I have worked with children over 30 years. I question the experience this library board and its administration has working children. I wonder why we even have a children’s department if we are going to put adult-obscenity material that is exploited to children right in their grasps. Now I want to tell you how this works as a school teacher for over 30 years, I’ve taught years of Campbell County students how to read. I didn’t teach them to read to go to the library to be assaulted emotionally, psychologically with the agenda the library obviously has.”

Bennett said expecting the parents to do everything is concerning and offered an example.

“Why do we make children wear seatbelts and booster seats in the car? Why don’t we just trust the parents to make sure their children are safe in the car? Because it’s not happening,” said Bennett, regarding past comments that parents should be held responsible for reading every book before allowing their child to read it.

Near the end of the public comments, Ben Decker offered his opinions straight of a book he checked out from the CCPL that was said at the meeting to be in the section for children ages 4-9. He brought the book, titled Sex Is a Funny Word, as visual. He opened the book and read from one of the chapters several graphic paragraphs that described suggested children touching and showing body parts among their friends. The exact reading can be viewed on the replay of the meeting on the county’s web site.

In closing, commissioners noted they have a joint meeting with the library on Monday, Sept. 27 at the library. It is open to the public and begins at 4 p.m.