Transparency in the book selection process required
I have used the Flathead County Library system for over 30 years. After reading about the recent controversy between library staff and the board over two books, “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy,” I did some background research.
A search of Montana’s shared catalog reveals ImagineIf as an outlier, holding seven copies of “Gender Queer” (a graphic novel by a trans author depicting pedophilia and gay sex). Other public libraries in Montana with copies are Great Falls, Helena, and Bozeman, each holding a copy. ImagineIf has two copies of “Lawn Boy” (novel explicitly depicting sex between pre-teen boys). Five other state libraries each hold a copy.
Why did local newspapers reject the challenge to print specific passages or images? How can the material essential to understanding the controversy be unsuitable for the newspaper, but suitable for minors to consult in the library?
A topic search in the library for “transgender” yields about 90 items at ImagineIf; about two-thirds are picture books, juvenile or young adult. I could find only one ideologically challenging track affirming transgender: “Irreversible Damage” by Abigail Shrier. Copies? One, finally on order. Where are the books of opposing viewpoints?
I challenge those who defend librarians and their book selection process to explain the tiny portion of books that address transgender with an ideology other than gender affirmation. On this crucial issue, has our library demonstrated commitment to diverse viewpoints? Or promoted a single point of view?
Then I looked at the American Library Association. “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” won the ALA Alex Awards, given for books “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18.” Did ImagineIf add “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” to their collection based on their ALA awards? Although housed in the adult collection, who was the intended audience? Adults? Or young adults?
The ALA lists of “banned and disputed books” include many LGBTQ-friendly titles, but ignore similarly censored opposing titles like “Irreversible Damage” or “When Harry Became Sally.” The “Advocacy” section of the ALA website focuses on “Social Justice, Diversity and Inclusion”. We all know that these terms feed the politics of the left. The ALA has staked the political territory of the far left. Why is it unreasonable for the board to question whether ALA membership still benefits our diverse county and its libraries?
Recent letters and editorials have praised library staff and raised alarm about the board, but they haven’t addressed Montana’s law regulating the distribution of obscene material to minors; they did not recognize the library’s material deficit from opposing points of view; they were not upfront about the political leanings of the ALA; nor did they explain why the county librarians made this issue their hill to die for.
I wholeheartedly agree with those who place a high value on our public libraries, but I think it’s clear that greater transparency in the book selection process is in order. I urge the library staff and board to work together towards this end.
— Margie Rasmussen, Whitefish
Equitable access to books
In our experience, our ImagineIf Public Library is an inclusive place, “providing equitable access to books and information in Flathead County since 1942.”
However, now it appears that a policy is being changed specifically to allow books to be censored. While technically it may be legal, it is certainly unethical for appointed administrators to impose their own values on our entire community. By this action, we even wonder if some members adequately meet the qualifications to be library trustees.
According to the library’s website, trustees must demonstrate “commitment to freedom of expression and inquiry for all” and have “the ability to represent the varied needs and interests of the community at large.” . Parents should have the right to decide what their children read, not administrators; adult members of the community must have access to all materials without censorship. It is a right and value encoded in the very first amendment to the US Constitution.
One wonders why three library trustees instead make decisions that deny equitable access to books, and why our three county commissioners continue to support appointees who clearly don’t serve all residents of Flathead County?
Beyond censorship, it should also be noted that the position of library director was offered to a person without any formal skills. The library will lose state funding due to a loss of accreditation, and staff morale and services may suffer from this hire.
Our public library is an intellectual haven and its staff is made up of dedicated and caring individuals who treat all who enter with dignity and respect. Imagine if the library continued to be guided by a qualified library manager dedicated to access to books and information without censorship. This would indeed be a welcome change from the current proposals.
— Michèle and Joel Tohtz, Kalispell