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(LETTER) Library books should follow same policy as internet for material available to children

"It has been said repeatedly that putting these books in an adult section and letting parents decide on behalf of their children is a First Amendment violation. I disagree," Del Shelstad writes.

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Dear Gillette,

I would like to clear the air on my position regarding the Campbell County Library situation.

First and foremost, I would like to emphasize that this is solely my opinion, and I am in no way speaking for the Campbell County Board of Commissioners.

My involvement in this situation began when a comment was made by former library board members and employees, after a quarterly library board meeting. I was told to stay in my lane as a county commissioner, and that our job as commissioners is to fund the library and to appoint library board members. During this quarterly meeting, I stated that if we couldn’t find a way to protect children from sexually explicit books, then we may need to reduce library funding.

My words were misconstrued to defund and shutdown the library completely. This was not accurate; those words never came out of my mouth.

I took the comments regarding staying in my lane to heart and began focusing on funding and appointing board members as terms expired. In the next fiscal year budget cycle, the commission declined 1% funding for the Gillette branch but approved the 1% funding for the Wright branch. During this timeframe, I was told if I didn’t like certain book(s), there was a challenge process I could initiate to have the books reviewed. Based on the contents of two books, I challenged two books in our library, “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.” The process took several weeks, and I ultimately received news that both of those challenges had failed. As a result, the books would not be moved to an adult section of the library. The former library director stated the current policy allowed my challenge to fail.

As board appointments began, I developed a list of questions to ask candidates during the interview process. My list always started with two specific questions: First: “Are you familiar with the American Library Association (ALA) and if so, do you believe they are a good fit for our rural Wyoming community?” Second: “Are you familiar with the situation going on at the library and if so, what would you suggest as a possible solution?” I would then ask follow-up questions based on responses to the first two questions.

My intent was to appoint an individual who best represented the majority of our community. Lately I keep hearing that the majority of our community is against moving any books in our library. Most folks say this is based on the number of people who attend library board meetings and post on social media. As a county commissioner I believe I am well connected to our community. Based on my daily conversations with county citizens, I believe I am representing the majority.

I was also made aware that our library “weeds” about 15 to 17 thousand books every year. Weeding was based on the physical condition of the book and how often the book was circulated. The books were given away, sold at the library book sale and all leftovers were taken to the recycle facility. Another commissioner and I took a field trip to the recycle center to see the books and we were amazed at what we saw. There were many boxes of books that were not damaged and still in good physical condition.

After my observation of the weeding process, I questioned why the books I challenged were not weeded since they had never been checked out. Why are some books kept despite their lack of circulation while others are weeded out? This demonstrates the apparent contradictions in the weeding process.

In 2021 as this issue was occurring, I was told numerous times that none of the books were harmful to children and just because my opinion differed, it did not make it fact. I took it upon myself to enlist the opinion of the senior most psychiatrist in the state of Wyoming, Dr. Mark Walter, who at the time was employed by Campbell County Health. He was asked specifically “if the exposure to pornographic or sexually explicit material has the potential to cause psychological harm to this apparent target audience of minors?” His response was, “yes and greatly so.” I will attach the letter from Dr. Walter so you can read it for yourself. Dr. Walter’s professional opinion has been dismissed and disrespected because he dares to have a differing opinion from the critics.

It has been said repeatedly that putting these books in an adult section and letting parents decide on behalf of their children is a First Amendment violation. I disagree. Anyone familiar with the Childrens Internet Protection Act [CIPA], enacted by Congress in 2000 and revised in 2011, could reasonably deduct there are many similarities with this act and the book situation occurring today. CIPA requires that public schools and public libraries must put a policy in place that would protect children from obscene and harmful material available on the internet or their respective computers.

The Campbell County Library currently has had this policy in place for several years. I don’t recall a single member of our community contesting this as a Constitutional violation of “free speech.” However, I will note that the American Library Association did when they filed suit against the federal government and eventually lost the case in the Untied States Supreme Court in June 2023. In a 6-3 vote, the court did not agree this was a “free speech” violation.

People in our community have said that “obscene” and “harmful” are subjective terms. Based on the ruling from the Supreme Court, I would argue that they are not.

In conclusion, it is imperative that we make it our responsibility to ensure protections are set in place for the safety our children and their future.

Del Shelstad