GILLETTE, Wyo. — At the last Campbell County Public Library Board meeting, Chair Sage Bear introduced measures to address the controversy over certain books in the children’s and young adults’ collections.
Bear made a statement before she announced the measures at the Sept. 26 meeting.
She introduced a child policy for public signage that would note that there’s a difference between a child and a teenager, that the library seeks to provide materials for a diverse group of people and that not all materials are appropriate for all children. Parents, not the library, should take responsibility for their children’s selections, she said.
“With our culture changing, and things, not everything in the library is safe for all children,” she said.
The Campbell County Public Library System’s April 2015 Appropriate Behavior Policy includes forbidding children to be left unattended.
“The violation of any one of these rules or any behavior which is deemed damaging to the library personnel, property or patrons by the librarians may subject the individual(s) to exclusion from the premises,” the policy states.
Campbell County Public Library System Executive Director Terri Lesley said that library staff manuals have additional guidance regarding child safety.
Library mission statement
Bear also proposed changing the Campbell County Public Library System’s mission statement from this:
“Our mission is to provide diverse cultural opportunities for reading, learning and entertainment to all citizens of our community. We lead the way to a universe of information with personal service and technology.”
“Our mission is to provide diverse cultural opportunities while upholding community standards. We strive to provide opportunities for reading, learning and entertainment for all citizens of our community. We lead the way to a universe of information with personal service and technology.”
“Upholding community standards” would involve using the Miller Test, which is the U.S. Supreme Court’s test for determining whether speech or expression is obscene and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.
Under the Miller Test, obscene expression meets all three of these criteria:
- The average person in the local community would find that the material, taken as a whole, mainly appeals to the prurient interest. In obscenity law, prurient interest is “a morbid, degrading, or excessive interest in sexual matters,” according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology
- The work depicts or describes, in a clearly offensive way, sexual conduct, as defined by state law
- Whether the overall work doesn’t have substantial literary, artistic, political or scientific value
These items are all solely up for discussion at this point, Bear confirmed to County 17 on Oct. 1. Bear said she is attempting to talk with a county-appointed lawyer about all the measures to make sure the board’s actions are legal.
Campbell County, which is substantially Republican, is much different from places like New York City so its community standards are different, she said.
“We are a very conservative town in a very conservative state,” she said. “Our library shouldn’t look like some of those other places’, and so to be within our community standards, I think, is a reasonable thing.”
Book content transparency committee
Bear has also selected five library community representatives to create a rating system for book content transparency so busy parents who are checking out many books at a time for their children can more quickly figure out whether they’re comfortable with their children reading the books.
The board approved in a 4-1 vote the establishment of the committee that would propose a content rating system for children’s books and books in the teens’ room. Board member Charlie Anderson voted against the motion.
Bear said that it would be helpful to include content descriptions in the front of books that would state whether the book has, for example, “sexual content,” “violence” or “drug use.” Movies and video games have similar rating systems, she said.
“It’s not like a parent can just look at the [book] cover and say ‘Oh, look! It’s PG!” she said.
Members of the committee are Sheri England, Candice Young, Gail Cruse, Christopher Boiallis and Gabby Messick. Bear asked the committee members to provide a recommendation to the board by the November board meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 21 in Gillette. Campbell County parents would vet the books using the system the committee creates, if the board approves of the committee’s recommendation.
Bear said the representatives she selected for the committee have diverse personal and political backgrounds. One is a person of color, one is a man, one has a transgender sibling, one has worked at the YES House and one is a stay-at-home mom, she said. Bear said all the committee members have shown interest in the library issue.
She said she understands some librarians were hurt by the rating system proposal, but she said she thinks not all parents ask librarians for their counsel.
Bear said Oct. 5 that since it would be a library patron-driven system, it won’t be perfect.
“It will be our community giving their opinions,” she said. “Nothing more.”
She said this morning that patrons would be able to take a book from the children’s and young adults’ collections and note in it whether it has, for example, sexual content.
“There could even be conflicting reviews in the same book,” she said.
Removing books concern
Bear said Oct. 1 that the board is not seeking to unilaterally remove books from the library.
“I know we’d immediately get slapped with a lawsuit if we did that, so that’s not even on the table,” she said.
If any books are removed, they would be removed in conformance with the library’s existing weeding policy, she said.
Teen room supervision
She said she’s concerned about how it’s parents’ responsibility to vet their children’s reading selections yet adult supervision is discouraged in the teen room since librarians want it to be a refuge and fun place geared for teenagers. Children who are 11 or 12 years old have access to books that were intended for 16- and 17-year-old youths, she said.
“If you harken back to your days, you would know if you pulled that book off the shelf and read it, that your mom and dad probably wouldn’t want you to check it out, so you would just stick it back on the shelf and read it while you’re there,” she said. “Kids are not, you know, stupid.”
She said she’s primarily concerned about the younger teenagers having access to certain books in the young adult section. She said teenagers aren’t risk-averse so they may try behaviors despite warnings and not make good decisions. Plenty of reading materials, such as information about constructing bombs, aren’t appropriate for children, she said.
“Kids always want to grow up faster than they need to,” she said.
Older children, who would be more adept at using the online card catalog, could easily still go to the library’s adult collections to find the books if they were moved, she said.
She wants to establish guidelines for collection development so that there’s a policy the community can rely on in dealing with these situations.
Bear also said she wants the community to know the library has a lot to offer, including makerspaces and technology that residents should take advantage of.
Impact on librarians
Vicki Swenson addressed an informal group of library supporters who met Monday at the library, and County 17 was able to catch up with her after the meeting. The group is not affiliated with the Friends of the Library. Group members want to stay informed about how to support the library as not all can attend library board meetings, she said.
She said she’s heard from other people that librarians have been emotionally traumatized over the past 14 months. For example, people have come into the library and called the librarians names and made personal attacks, which is sad and unnecessary, she said.
She said she doesn’t mind the controversy of the books.
“We should always have controversy to discuss things, to get things decided on,” she said. “I might not like something, but then you might have a different advantage of looking at it, and then we can learn from each other.”
Swenson said that she concluded the Sept. 26 library board meeting demonstrated the board is new and doesn’t yet understand what it does and doesn’t have the authority to do. The board hasn’t undergone board training yet, she said.
In June, the Campbell County Board of Commissioners decided to allow Wright Branch Library, but not Campbell County Public Library, to use optional 1% sales tax funds for children’s and young adults’ services.
Challenged books include the following, in no particular order:
- “Doing it!: Let’s Talk About Sex” by Hannah Witton
- “A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities” by Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg
- “A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability” by A. Andrews
- “Music from Another World” by Robin Talley
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “The Babysitters Coven” by Kate Williams
- “Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard” by Alex Bertie
- “Be Amazing: A History of Pride” by Desmond is Amazing
- “Mary Wears What She Wants” by Keith Negley
- “Rainbow: A First Book of Pride” by Michael Genhart
- “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson
- “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe
- “The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex” by Amber J. Keyser
- “My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights” by Robin Stevenson
- “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew P. Smiler, Ph.D.
- “You Be You! The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family” by Jonathan Branfman
- “Asking About Sex & Growing Up: A Question-and-Answer Book for Kids” by Joanna Cole
- “Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights” by Karen Blumenthal
- “Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement” by Nadya Okamoto
- “The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta
- “Heartstopper Volume 1” by Alice Oseman
- “The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are” by Kelly Storck, LCSW
- “How Do You Make a Baby?” by Anna Fiske
- “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
- “Meena” by Sine van Mol
- “Jack (Not Jackie)” by Erica Silverman
- “Heather Has Two Mommies” by Lesléa Newman
- “It’s NOT the Stork!: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends” by Robie H. Harris
The books listed above were on a reference-only cart of challenged books in the library’s administrative offices, which County 17 visited at about 3:30 p.m. Oct. 4.
Where were these books?
According to minutes from the Feb. 28 library board meeting, “Be Amazing: A History of Pride” was in the library’s children’s nonfiction collection, and the “Sex Plus: Learning, Loving, and Enjoying Your Body” book was in the young adult nonfiction collection. The Jan. 24 library board meeting minutes said “Babysitters Coven” and “Music from Another World” were in the young adult fiction collection and “A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities” was in the young adult graphic novel collection. The Dec. 20, 2021, library board meeting minutes said “Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard” was in the young adult nonfiction collection.
According to meeting minutes, Lesley said at the library board’s Nov. 22, 2021, meeting that the library had received 56 request for reconsideration forms from 17 patrons with 29 unique titles and that the library received the first challenge Aug. 9, 2021.
According to that meeting’s minutes, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathon Evison was in the adult fiction collection, while “Lawn Boy” by Gary Paulsen was in the children’s fiction collection; “Mary Wears What She Wants” was in the children’s fiction collection; “Meena” was in the children’s fiction collection; and “The V-Word” was in the young adult nonfiction collection.
According to Oct. 25, 2021 meeting minutes, “This Book is Gay” was in the young adult fiction collection. Two books were moved from the young adult graphic novel collection to the adult graphic novel collection, minutes from that meeting said.
The work continues
The next Campbell County Public Library Board meeting is Oct. 24 at Wright Branch Library, 305 Wright Blvd., Wright.
County 17 has been trying to get more information from Lesley regarding the library’s budget breakdown for the year, considering the Gillette library’s loss of the optional 1% sales tax funding. County 17 has also asked Lesley for any update on the appropriate behavior policy, a full list of the challenged books and where they had been placed prior to being challenged, an estimate of when the teen room will reopen and her reaction to Bear’s public statement.
The library has been undergoing roof repairs and water main break flooding cleanup.