The Abilene Public Library Board on Monday tabled taking action on a list of of contested library materials received by the board, while a group of residents showed up again to complain about what they perceive as sexually-related materials that could be accessed by minors.
The books in question were submitted through Sept. 30, board president Clint Buck said, reading a prepared statement from the review committee that consists of Buck and library board members Denise Moore and Joe Specht.
From six people, the library received 30 “reconsideration” requests in the time period, Buck said. Four requests duplicated those of another petitioner, dropping the total to 26 titles, Buck said.
The six petitioners “collectively read in their entirety six” of the 26 books, he said.
“As a result, petitioners were, by and large, unable to articulate any contextual understanding for the sentences and or snippets they relied on in their respective reconsideration requests,” Buck said. “The members of the special review committee endeavored to consider each title in its entirety.”
The review committee specifically focused attention on 14 physical books owned by the Abilene Public Library.
Books contested by readers are pulled from the shelves of the library system, pending final action by Abilene’s city manager.
The committee conducted five meetings to meet with four individual petitioners, Buck said.
Petitioners’ requests for the titles varied, from removing a book from the shelves of the library system altogether, to reclassifying a book from young adult fiction to adult fiction, to creating a “specially segregated section for books specifically identified,” Buck said.
Time to consider?
At the request of board member Tim de la Vega, a motion was made, and passed, though not unanimously, to wait on a decision until de la Vega and others could vet some of the volumes.
They remain off the shelf until a decision is rendered.
Buck said the “importance of submitting a reconsideration request cannot be overstated.”
“Asking a public library dedicated to serving all its residents to reconsider a book is a monumental request,” he said. “In essence, a petitioners is purporting to know and/or believe his or her rights and our beliefs carry more weight than another citizen’s rights and beliefs.”
Other reconsideration requests received on or after Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 will be processed in a recommendation presented at the next quarterly library meeting, he said.
Advocates for removing or reclassifying books struck up a theme.
They targeted the need to serve as watch guards for children’s innocence and the need to protect them from materials that appeal to prurient interest or against what they see as prevailing community standards, specifically informed by Christian faith.
Eric Bengs read a segment from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eyes,” a novel that contains explicit scenes but − according to Buck, later in the meeting − is already placed in the library’s adult fiction section.
The novel’s protagonist is a young Black girl who grows up in the years following the Great Depression. The book deals with topics including racism, incest and child molestation.
It is a book that has been targeted in other states.
Bengs and others also spoke out against a graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. The novel version of the story tells the story of a dystopian version of the future Republic of Gilead, which has overthrown the United States government.
Handmaids are women who are forcibly assigned to produce children for the new government’s ruling class. Among the novel’s themes are female reproductive rights and loss of agency and individuality.
Bengs and others who spoke about the graphic version of the 1985 novel chose to emphasize specific scenes of violence and nudity within it.
Carolyn Walden, who said she had lived in Abilene for 50 years, echoed others when she said she was “here to speak on behalf of innocent children who may fall into a moral trap” by browsing the library.
“I have a keen appreciation from the free flow and exchange of ideas in a free society,” Walden said. “However, the issue of pornography is not about mutual ideas. It is a moral issue and a perversion of what nature and nature’s God tells us about human sexuality.”
Such standards are written by God, not just in stone by in individual human consciences, she said, arguing that boundaries are put in place not to “restrict our freedom, but rather to protect us.”
“I am here to defend the innocent from moral danger,” she said, adding “if the gay/trans community wants to educate others regarding their sexual practices, they are free to start their own rooms and bookstores in this free society.”
Other speakers shared personal stories about dealing with child sexual abuse at a young age, and the effect it had on them, while others shared concern about books containing profanity, alcohol and drug abuse and open sexuality that they worry could be access by minors.
No single voice
Cheryl Sawyers said the United States is a free country, “given to us by the Constitution of the United States.”
“The First Amendment allows us to have freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Sawyers said. “And because we collect taxes in the way that we do, that means that any type of person in Abilene, whether they have the same religion or the same thoughts or the same morals or whatever, can have access to books that they enjoy.”
Sawyers said she disagreed with a single group of parents and others who have taken up the cause against certain books, noting they do not speak for all Abilene residents.
“There’s clearly not 124,000 people in this room,” she said. “Having a group of people get up and then preach one specific part of religion does not speak for the entire whole of the city of Abilene.”
The library supports the right of individuals to access information, no matter if it may be considered controversial, unorthodox or unacceptable to others, Buck said.
What the committee determined:
∎ Reclassify some young adult books as adult, including a five-book series “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” by Sarah J. Maas, and the books “Damsel” by Elana K. Arnold and “Flamer” by Mike Curato.
∎ Several juvenile and young adult books were shelved appropriately within the APL’s collection, including “The Moon Within” by Aida Salazar, “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin, “Sold” by Patricia McCormick, a book about sex trafficking mentioned by some speakers, and “Yolk” by Mary H.K. Choi.
∎ Other books in question are available only in electronic format, The library system is developing a limited-access juvenile card that would restrict such titles, among others, from being checked out by minors. Those requests include: “My Body is Growing: A guide for 4-to-8 year olds,” by Dagmar Geisler, “Bumped” by Megan McCafferty, “Burned” and Crank” by Ellen Hopkins,” “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “What Girls are made of” by Elana K. Arnold.
∎ Books already classified as adult, and therefore requiring no further action, were: “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “All Boys Aren’t Blue”by George M. Johnson, “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “Queer: A Graphic History” by Meg-John Barker and illustrator Jules Scheele, “Red Hood” by Elana K. Arnold, “Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston and “You Too?” by Janet Gurtler.
∎ Relocating the graphic version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from the Mockingbird Lane branch to the main branch downtown.
∎ Two books requested for removal are not owned or offered by the library – “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan, and “Lolita,” by Valdimir Nabokov.