EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was written by Howard L. Simon, Ph.D, a Sanibel resident and president of Clean Okeechobee Waters Foundation, Inc. The Santiva Chronicle publishes opinions and letters on topics that are important to Sanibel and Captiva. They may be submitted via email at email@example.com.
America’s culture wars came to Sanibel last week. You couldn’t be so naive as to think that our island paradise would be immune.
Last week more than 100 people, many more than capacity, crowded into a meeting room of the Sanibel Public Library for a meeting of the Library District Board of Commissioners. Never had they had anyone attend one of their meetings, Commissioners noted in amazement.
Most were there to defend the judgement of the professional library staff and Commissioners — and the role that libraries have traditionally played in America as guardian of the First Amendment’s value on access to information.
An online article in a local right-wing publication had reported that two mothers and their children recently visited the Sanibel Public Library and that one child came across a small display on one of the shelves in the children’s section of the library honoring Pride Month. The display included two children’s books dealing with transgender youth (”Jack, Not Jackie” and “My Own Way”), which the mother believed to be inappropriate for her child. The second child came across another children’s book also describing transgender youth (“When Aiden Became a Brother”).
Apparently, according to the comments of these parents at the library commission meeting, books dealing with gay families and gay relationships can be tolerated, but information describing transgender youth crosses some line of permissible inclusion in the library’s children’s collection. It should be noted that all these books are available at public libraries throughout Lee County and in fact, libraries throughout the country.
These days, few people are oblivious to public support for America’s oldest constitutional values of free expression and access to information. Few people will proclaim that they are actually for censorship — greater subtlety is required. The two mothers requested that the display be “relocated” to a spot where young library patrons would be less likely to see the offending books.
Surely every parent has the right to direct the upbringing of their children. Accordingly, the Sanibel District Library Policy states that “Responsibility for library materials use by minors rests with their parents or guardians.” What is distressing in censorship debates is the notion that a parent would think that the appropriate way to protect their child from what they regard as harmful information is to force a government agency like a public library to adopt a policy that would keep information away from everyone’s children.
By well-established policies of the American Library Association, every library typically has a procedure by which a patron can file a complaint requesting that, for one reason or another, a book be removed from the shelves. The mothers decided not to file the complaint form and to make their appeal directly to library commissioners.
Not succeeding in having the offending books removed or the display relocated so the information would be less accessible to youngsters, it seems that a strategy of vigilante censorship was adopted: the offending books were checked out en masse to keep them out of circulation.
This issue is far from over: six of the seven seats on the Sanibel District Library Commission will be filled during the November election. Three of the six seats are uncontested. There will be a contest for the remaining three seats – two of which the protesting mothers are seeking to fill.
This is a non-partisan election, so the difference between candidates is not the usual partisan division. The difference between the candidates is likely to be between those supporting restrictions on information, even censorship, and those supporting the First Amendment’s value of access to information on a diversity of topics and representing diverse points of view.
Get informed about the candidates for the Sanibel District Library Commission so you can help defend our library staff and our public library.