Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Library removes LGBTQ books from kids’ section

Friday, December 4, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

Leader photo by CALEB DANIEL

“My Two Dads” and “My Two Moms” by Claudia Harrington are two of the more than a dozen books with LGBTQ themes that have recently been removed from the Lincoln Parish Library’s children’s section and are now available by parent request.

Article Image Alt Text

Pictured are most of the books recently removed from the children's section at the library. Those not pictured were checked out by patrons at the time.

Article Image Alt Text

This book about blended families was removed from the children's department shelves and placed on the reserve shelf. The sentence on the right about families with "two mommies or two daddies" is the only LGBTQ reference in the book.

In response to some complaints from patrons, the Lincoln Parish Library has recently removed several books containing LGBTQ characters or content from the children’s department and made them available by adult request only.

Library Director Vivian McCain said she and members of the library’s Board of Control in mid-November began receiving emails from more than a dozen patrons, all with identical verbiage, asking that “LGBTQ items” be removed from the shelves and displays in the children’s department.

At the request of a few board members, McCain allowed the books in question to be removed. They can still be requested for checkout by an adult with a library card but are currently not visible to patrons on the floor.

McCain said she disagrees with the decision, as it contradicts the library’s material selection policy.

“We’re here to serve everybody equally, no matter who they are,” she said. “This goes against every grain in my body as a public librarian.”

The decision

The complaint letters state the senders believe “these items are unacceptable for viewing by children without their parents’ consent and input.”

“Putting these questionable materials on display does not reflect the values of our community,” the letters read.

They also mention the upcoming election on Saturday in which voters will approve or reject a 10-year renewal of the property tax that funds the bulk of the library’s budget.

A handful of board members, including board President Augusta Clark and now-outgoing member David Gullatt, reportedly met at the library twice to discuss the complaints. The meetings resulted in McCain being instructed to relocate the books and make them request-only.

When asked about the decision, both Clark and Gullatt spoke of balancing different views.

“We did not feel that it would offend other parents to have (the books) on reserve for their approval,” Gullatt said. “But we did feel that there were some parents who were offended that the books were there where the children could pick up something they wish they would not read at such an early age. So I think we took the path of less resistance.”

Clark said the library “must walk a close line” and that she doesn’t “want censorship.”

“We want to make sure people have access to the books in the library,” she said. “But we thought it would be in the best interest to remove them off the shelves in the children’s department and make them available by request.”

McCain provided the Leader with a copy of the library’s materials selection policy, which states in its first paragraph that “the library does not stand in the place of parents.”

“The Lincoln Parish Library regards censorship as a purely individual matter and holds that while anyone is free to personally reject materials that they may consider offensive, one cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others,” the policy reads. “Only parents and guardians have the right and responsibility to guide and direct the reading, listening, and viewing choices of their own minor children.”

This policy is in alignment with the American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights,” which states that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval,” and that a person’s right to use a library should not be “denied or abridged” based on age.

Gullatt said he was happy with the parent-permission solution and viewed it as a sensible compromise.

“The books were bought with taxpayer money, so the public has a right to see them ... The thinking was, at that early age a child doesn’t necessarily understand how to pick the best books or the books that comply with how they’re brought up,” he said. “We just wanted to preclude a child getting something and reading it that a parent would not approve for an early age.”

The books

The complaints originally centered on two critically acclaimed children’s novels by Alex Gino, “George” and “Rick,” which tell the story of a transgender girl in elementary school named Melissa who others see as a boy named George, according to the first book’s description.

McCain said a patron took pictures of “George” and “Rick” on display in the children’s section, sparking the complaints.

Since then, more than a dozen other children’s books have become the source of similar complaints, leading to their also being removed.

Some of the books, like the first two, tell stories that place the experiences of LGBTQ people front and center. Others have much smaller references to the topic, such as a book about adoption that simply has an illustration of a family with two mothers on the final page.

There’s even an entire young adult fantasy series called “Wings of Fire” placed among the relocated books because it features a lesbian dragon as a main character.

None of the books contain sexually graphic material, McCain said, nor are the stories about sex. The Leader’s perusal of the books yielded the same conclusion.

McCain said some of the books have continued to be checked out since being moved.

The meetings

No more than four members of the library board were present at either of the two meetings about the books. That’s less than a quorum, meaning the gathering was not an official meeting of the board.

Assistant District Attorney Lewis Jones, who serves as the library board’s legal counsel, was reportedly present for one of the meetings. He did not respond to inquiries from the Leader by press time.

But Karen White, executive counsel for the Louisiana Municipal Association, said such a gathering would likely not be in violation of Louisiana’s open meetings laws, but without a quorum, board members’ instructions to McCain have no weight.

“They can say whatever they want, but it carries no authority,” White said.

In other words, the members could not speak on behalf of the board without a quorum present at an open meeting, and therefore McCain is not legally bound by their instructions to remove the books.

The next official library board meeting is slated for Dec. 9. It’s not yet known whether the board will address the topic.