by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
A book display recognizing LBGTQ Pride Month in June at the Sanibel Public Library caused concern for a group of island parents. Books about gender identity written for children were featured as a collection in the youth section and shelved at a child’s height.
The concerned parents are asking the library to relocate books on sensitive or complex topics, such as gender identity, from the youth section, where they are easily accessible by children as young as three years old, to the adult section in a genre of parenting books.
In a standing-room-only meeting of the library’s Board of Commissioners on Thursday, June 30, community members voiced their concerns and differing opinions over the placement of books with sensitive and complex topics in the youth section.
Sanibel Library Board members listen to public comment at a packed meeting Thursday at the library. SC photo by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Miles and Chelsea Sweiss are among the parents at the meeting who raised concern over the easy access to the books by children as young as three years old. Gender identity is a complex topic and one, they say, should be addressed with young children at the parents’ discretion.
“No one is here to ban books as we understand there are a multitude of diverse families with different ideologies,” said Miles. “However, we all can agree that protecting the mental health of our children is everyone’s priority.”
He said that is why they are asking the library to not advertise children’s material which is “complex, sensitive or controversial in nature, including material regarding sex and gender dysphoria,” directly to minors.
Instead, relocate the materials to the adult section under a genre called “Parenting Books For Children,” with any applicable disclaimer about the content of the reading material.
“This will afford the parent the right when to choose to discuss a particular sensitive subject matter with their child,” said Miles.
The Sanibel Public Library children’s section is home to more than 12,800 books, audiobooks, music CDs and DVDs, as well as offers programs, technology and services designed to build children’s love of reading and discovery. SC photo by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Some people in Thursday’s meeting said relocating the books would limit children’s access to them or could make the subjects seem taboo. One person said the issue was not about the topic of books but access to information under the First Amendment.
Others were there to defend the decisions of library staff with many describing the children’s librarian, Deanna Evans, as “unbelievably patient, knowledgeable and experienced.”
Resident Arlene Dillon spoke about the library’s policies and procedures which should be followed in this type of situation. The library’s policy is “responsibility for library materials use by minors rests with their parents or guardians.” A patron who wishes to have the library reconsider material can fill out a request for reconsideration form.
Requests are reviewed by library staff and Executive Director Margaret Mohundro makes the final decision. If a patron is unhappy with the decision, it can be appealed to the library board.
Miles said the form’s vague verbiage led them to think it was only for a book to be removed or included in the collection. Since they did not want the books to be removed, they reached out to library staff and board members before also attending Thursday’s meeting.
Library board members listened to about an hour of public comment on both sides of the issue. Chair Melanie Congress said the highly sensitive topic deserves the board’s attention, as well as reviews of policy and all staff’s attention to management policies.
Executive Director Margaret Mohundro, second from right at center table, discusses the youth collection Thursday with Sanibel Library Board of Commissioners Linda Uhler, right, Nichole McHale, Suzie Holly, Chair Melanie Congress, Roy Gibson, Barbara Ruben and Sandra Zahorchak. SC photo by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Congress opened the public discussion with a statement, in which she said the “library is in uncharted territory when it comes to navigating this controversial issue.” But she felt confident a solution can be found.
“I truly believe there is a remedy available to address the concerns of parents regarding the gender-identity books displayed in the youth section,” said Congress. “The solutions may likely be ongoing, given this is the first opportunity the Board has had to meet on the issue.”
Congress said she takes everyone’s concerns seriously. “However, I do so with the understanding American libraries exist and function within the context of a body of laws derived from the Constitution and First Amendment.”
Libraries are a place for learning, exploration and access to resources to support its patron’s interest and endeavors, she said. “It is recognized that some materials chosen may be offensive, shocking or boring to some, but meaningful and significant to others.”
She said the question for her is “how to apply the policies and (library’s) mission regarding collection to our very youngest patrons.”
There was no action taken by the board in Thursday’s meeting, but Mohundro will present board members with a set of solutions which will be discussed in the July 28 meeting. Management policies are under review, as well.
The books at the center of concern have been checked out of the library and were still out as of Thursday.