The Library Committee forms a committee to review contested books
The Abilene Public Library board of directors voted Monday to create a standing three-person committee to review books recommended for the library’s formal “reconsideration” process that individual readers deemed questionable.
The Board also recommended that a decision be taken on a book recommended for reconsideration, Let’s Talk It: A Teenager’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being Human, by Robert Hanna, Abilene City Manager.
The board also voted to recommend that Hanna move the single copy of the system, which contains graphic depictions of human sexuality, from the Abilene Public Library branch in the Mall of Abilene to the downtown branch and place it in the adult books to keep in this collection.
These materials are located in the basement of the main library, on a different floor from the children’s section.
Hanna will make a final decision on the book’s place in the collection or whether to remove it.
In previous comments, Hanna said he doesn’t believe the book, which was kept in the adult section of the mall’s library but was reportedly found on an end cap allowing minors to access it, should be in the city’s collection.
The library recently pledged to create a youth and children’s library card, which would restrict access to the system’s youth collection, while Abilene City Council recently passed a parental use policy, stating that the library system will not act on behalf of a parent can.
The library system also plans to add search filters for online materials.
handling the load
Board Chairman Clint Buck said the standing committee is designed to deal with a growing number of requests for books in the library’s collection to be re-examined.
The requests come after a recent spate of concerns from a group of parents, grandparents and others about sexually explicit materials that may be available to minors, particularly in the teen library’s collection.
Buck said after the meeting the committee would avoid the library having to set up a committee to handle separate requests.
“The way our charter goes is that every time we get a request, we have to hold a special session so we can appoint the special committee to review,” Buck said. “As we continue to receive more, this seems like a more efficient and quicker way to address these concerns as soon as we receive them, rather than having to call a special meeting each time we receive a request.”
The review board will present its recommendations to the library council, which will then forward a recommendation to the city government’s office, he said.
The composition of the three-member board, which will be composed of members of the library board, and details such as the length of membership of the standing committee have yet to be determined.
It drew questions from those who attended Monday’s meeting.
Need more votes?
Regarding the formation of committees, Ryan Goodwin, who has spoken frequently on library and other issues, said he and others believe there needs to be a larger committee, perhaps as many as seven, and not just a small group that made up of a handful of library committees members to reconsider.
“For one person to have a third of the say? I really think there needs to be a broader committee,” Goodwin said.
At the last council meeting, the library system pledged to develop methods for residents to know which books are scheduled for purchase and to give the library council ample time to comment on whether specific books should be included in upcoming orders.
At the same session, speakers indicated that a list of more than 350 books considered questionable had been identified for possible re-examination.
Goodwin recommended that the board enlist outside help from residents if their job became too strenuous for their volunteer members, and also noted that the group of parents and others concerned with library materials does not have a specific group of people when making lists had in mind.
“This is not an LGBTQ thing,” he said. “We’re back…on the right topic. This is about sexually explicit books.”
let’s move it
Much discussion remained of the “let’s talk about it” that has been at the heart of much of the recent move to remove or re-shelf certain items.
Those who opposed the book’s retention stressed that they had no interest in banning literature even though they did not want it to remain in the library.
“We’re asking what the (review) process is telling us what we need to do,” said two-time city councilor Charles Byrn. “…We are demanding that this book be taken off the shelves. That’s what we’re asking for and I want to make sure people understand it.”
Byrn declined to comment to Reporter-News when asked for his opinion on the board’s decision.
Other speakers said that the book’s graphic novel-style illustrations were aimed at children, who they felt resembled pornography.
Many of those who have spoken about the volume have expressed a desire to move books dealing with sexuality to a special section where they are only accessible to adults and minors cannot borrow them.
James Sargent, another May council candidate, said he and his wife have foster children and stressed that if they ever exposed them to pornography, he and she would be investigated by authorities and the children removed from their home.
“This isn’t a gender issue, it’s just sexually explicit material,” he said, adding that some foster children have come to terms with sexual trauma in their past — and that exposure to such material could reopen those wounds.
Those in favor of the book said it was dangerous to let a small group decide to remove materials from library shelves, with some calling the request one out of fear.
Others said the book’s focus on approval and interpersonal relationships carried a positive message, while others explained that a citizens’ committee proposed by some to decide which books are or are not in the library collection could easily become a body for the Books could be banned.
“When a book is taken off the shelf, it seems banned to me,” said retired librarian Jane Bering, adding it’s important to keep the library “open and free” to readers, including those with little to no no resources.
Spokesman Alec Pitts said removing books from the collection was a mistake.
“To ban every book in a free, democratic country is a slippery slope to a very, very bad place, as we’ve seen in history,” he said. “Whether the books are about things people would agree with, or maybe they feel their children shouldn’t read them, no one has the right to speak for every child and every parent in the country .”
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a ReporterNews.com digital subscription.
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