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Criticism of library contents continues

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | July 29, 2022 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — While some area Republicans continue to push for certain materials to be removed from area libraries, staff maintain that libraries must include books on all topics — including those that some deem controversial or objectionable.

“The library can’t discriminate,” said Community Library Network Director Amy Rodda. “We have books on all viewpoints.”

At a meeting of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans on Thursday, Marianna Cochran led a presentation about what she called “toxic” books available to children and teens through the Community Library Network.

Cochran, of Rathdrum, is one of several community members who have objected to certain materials, especially books that relate to race or the LGBTQ community.

Rodda said the concerns voiced at the meeting don’t appear to be representative of the majority of library patrons.

“We’ve had a few concerns from a very small group,” she said.

Minutes from library trustee meetings over the last six months show that much of the criticism delivered via public comment has come from the same people, including Cochran.

During meetings where more than a handful of people spoke, public comment was split between those who support removing certain books from libraries and those who want the books to stay.

Cochran criticized some library services, including the online catalogue that allows library card holders to search for books, find more books related to topics of interest and put books on hold.

After that, patrons can have their desired book sent to the library closest to them, where they can pick it up and check it out via a kiosk, without interacting with a librarian.

Cochran said she thinks the service makes it too easy for children and teens to access books their parents don’t want them to read.

“There’s no adult intervention,” she said.

Rodda noted that minors can’t get a library card without parental permission. She encourages parents who don’t want their children to read about certain topics to keep an eye on what books their children check out.

“Parents are the ones who get to make those decisions,” she said.

At the meeting, Cochran distributed a flyer that included a link to a list of more than 600 “books to avoid,” which labeled the books based on content.

The labels are: “abortion, anti-police, bisexual, drugs, gay, gender identity or fluid, occult, racism, rape, sex, trans.” Some books received multiple labels. The list gives no additional information or context about the content of the books.

Cochran said she believes that library books are “grooming” children into identifying as gay or transgender.

She pointed specifically to “Not Quite Narwhal,” a picture book about a unicorn born to a family of narwhals who must determine where he fits in, as an example of an objectionable book about “gender identity.”

“This is indoctrinating children,” she said.

Cochran also provided a smaller list of recommended books, many of which are in the library’s collection.

Community members can request that certain material be reconsidered. Such material undergoes review by library staff, who read it in full, research it and consider whether it meets the library’s material selection policy.

The Community Library Network uses several criteria to determine which items to add to the collection, including usefulness or lasting value, popularity and user demand and representation of trends, subjects or genres of local or national interest.

Robert Fish, a former library trustee who attended the Thursday meeting, said library directors work hard to respond to the needs of the community and acquire relevant books.

“People who work in libraries are really huge on freedom of speech,” he said. “Any legitimate book can be in the library. If we don’t have it, we can find it for you.”

When a book is reconsidered, several outcomes are possible.

For example, a book originally placed in the children’s section might be moved to the teen section. It might also remain in its original section.

The least likely outcome is for a book to removed from the collection.

“That’s much more rare, partially because of the public library’s role in upholding the First Amendment,” Rodda said.

Five books have gone through the full review process since January, Rodda said. The books are:

  • “Jack not Jackie” by Erica Silverman
  • “I am Jazz” by Jazz Jennings and Erica Herthel
  • “George” by Alex Gino
  • “From Archie to Zack” by Vincent Kirsch
  • “Something Happened in Our Town” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard

All five books were recommended to remain in the collection as originally classified, Rodda said, where they remain.

Some who object to the contents of public libraries have stopped patronizing them entirely.

Teresa Roth said she hasn’t set foot inside a public library in 15 years due to her objections about the books they keep in their collections.

She said she’s curated a personal library of children’s books, which she shares with parents who homeschool their kids.

“I’m not interested in compromising with these people,” Roth said. “My solution has been to go around them.”

The library collection has more than 200,000 books, Rodda said, with something for every reader. Staff can help parents find the right books for their kids, whether they’re looking for a particular topic or want to avoid one.

“If you don’t want a certain book, we have hundreds of other books that we’d be happy to share,” Rodda said.

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