Campbell County library board listens to, rejects three more book appeals

GILLETTE — Two children’s picture books and a collection of essays on losing one’s virginity were the latest challenged books to make it all the way to the Campbell County Public Library Board.

At its meeting Monday, the library voted to keep all three books in their respective locations in the library.

For nearly four months, residents have criticized the library for including books that deal with sex and LGBTQ+ issues in the teen and children’s sections.

To date, the library has received 56 reconsideration forms from 17 different people on 21 unique titles. The library board has listened to four appeals so far, and four more are scheduled for December.

In September, the board voted to keep “This Book Is Gay” in the teen section. That was the first appeal to come before the board in years.
The three books that were before the board Monday were “Meena,” by Sine Van Wol, “Mary Wears What She Wants,” by Keith Negley, and “The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex.”

The first two books are in the children’s section, and “The V-Word” is in the teen section. Library staff already had recommended the books stay put, but Helen Hayden appealed this decision to the board.

“Mary Wears What She Wants” is about a girl named Mary who wore pants in the 19th century. It’s based on the true story of Dr. Mary Walker, a doctor who received the Medal of Honor and was arrested multiple times for wearing pants.

Hayden said the book encourages transgenderism, cross-dressing and rebellion.

“I felt like it was a breakdown of the family, being disrespectful, blatant and rebellion,” she said.

She added that the book promotes the idea that there are not boys’ clothes or girls’ clothes, just clothes, which means it’s OK for boys to wear a dress.

“Maybe in New York and California it would be OK, but we live in the Cowboy State, and I don’t think that cowboys are really going to like seeing a man in a dress,” Hayden said.

Miranda Finn pointed out that the book does not feature any men or boys wearing dresses.

The board voted unanimously to reject the appeal and keep the book in the children’s section.

Hayden had challenged “Meena” because she believed it encourages name calling and disrespect, and because it introduces the concept of witchcraft to readers.

“Meena” is a story about neighborhood children who start rumors about an old woman who they believe to be a witch who eats toads and drinks blood. As the story goes on, they learn that none of the rumors are true, and that the woman is actually a nice person.

Library Director Terri Lesley read an excerpt from a review of the book by Kirkus Reviews, which called it “a provocative look at the trajectory between snap judgments and hateful behavior — when both are fueled by fear.”

Susan Sisti had previously criticized the book at a Campbell County Commission meeting in September.

“Some say that’s not that bad, but drinking blood involves a sacrifice of a human or an animal,” Sisti said then. “All of us adults know that’s a satanic ritual that they do in these high level satanic covens.”

Hayden said the book has the “power of suggestion,” which could lead kids to do some dangerous things.

“Children like to mimic, they like to play house, so they could start trying to practice like they’re a witch,” she said.

She’s concerned that children might try to eat toads because they read it in the book.

Hayden worried the book could even lead to children engaging in self-harm, specifically cutting.

“It only takes one child to try this out, and if they start cutting themselves and seeing blood, that’s not a good thing,” she said.

The board voted to keep the book in the children’s section, with Mandy Steward being the lone board member to support moving it. She said that while she thought the book had a good moral at the end, the name calling worried her.

“The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex” is a collection of essays by women about losing their virginity in their teens. 

In Hayden’s challenge of the book, she wrote that “teens should not be encouraged in any type of sex, straight, queer, LGBTQ+. The first time with a partner should be meaningful and the partner feeling honored and special that they are the first on their wedding day.”

“I found it a very awkward book to read,” said board member Charlie Anderson. “At the same time it was very clear, I thought it didn’t encourage anything, particularly.”

Dr. Hollie Stewart, board chair, said it comes down to how the stories are interpreted.

“What one might see as encouraging a particular activity, others see as discouraging,” she said. “There’s plenty in there that could be (seen as) cautionary tales.”

Finn said she did her own research on regional libraries to see where they shelved this book. If Campbell County was the only library in the region to have it in the teen section, “that to me would suggest we did something wrong.”

Throughout the region, 14 libraries have the book, and 11 out of those 14 have it shelved in their teen or young adult section, Finn said.

She added that the book addresses “a wide range” of first-time sexual encounters, from a woman who waited until marriage to have sex to women who regretted losing their virginity as a teen.

Hayden said she didn’t need a book on sex when she was younger, and that if teens truly need to read “The V-Word,” their parents can buy it for them.

“This stuff isn’t acceptable for teens, they don’t need to be knowing this,” she said. “Maybe if they’re in college and their parents haven’t told them, maybe they could do it.”

She pointed out that the book contains words like “breasts,” “vagina” and “penis,” as well as slang terms for those words.

“This is stuff we can’t talk about,” Hayden said.

She also criticized the library for using the American Library Association as a resource.

“If your mother told you to jump off a bridge, are you going to do that just because the American Library Association says it might be a good idea?” Hayden asked.

“How can you guys really find this acceptable?” Hayden asked. “You guys are home-wreckers.”

At this point, Stewart asked Hayden to stop speaking, “in the interest of keeping things civil.”

“We don’t want to hear from you!” Susan Sisti said.

This led to people trying to talk over each other for a little bit. Anderson raised a point of order, saying Hayden was no longer talking about the subject at hand.

“I was until you guys interrupted,” Hayden said.

The board voted to keep the book in the teen section, with Steward being the lone vote to move it. She pointed out that the suggested reading level for the book is grades 10-12, but the teen section is open to kids from grades 7-12.

A fourth book, “Trans-Mission,” was up for appeal on Monday, but that was tabled because Hayden had not finished reading it, and because Sisti had asked if she could talk about the book for Hayden.

The board voted 3-2 to table the appeal and address it at the December meeting.