GILLETTE — If people have a problem with certain books in the Campbell County Public Library, they need to go through the proper channels to challenge those books.
That was the message that the Campbell County Public Library board had for the audience and county commissioners at a special meeting in the library’s Wyoming Room on Thursday morning.
The meeting was well attended, but no public comment was allowed. Outside the building were library supporters protesting any censorship.
It’s the latest episode in the controversy over the library’s inclusion and promotion of LGBTQ material to teens.
On July 7, some residents criticized the Campbell County Public Library about a Facebook post promoting its LGBTQ teen collection for Rainbow Book Month.
Six days later, Mikayla Oz, a magician who had been scheduled to perform at the library, canceled due to safety concerns after it was learned that she was a transgender woman.
On July 26, a library board meeting became contentious and heated as people on both sides of the issue made their arguments. At that meeting, numerous people asked the board and library director Terri Lesley to resign.
Dr. Hollie Stewart, chair of the library board, said that while the board has the authority to remove a book from the library, it can’t do so without a formal written complaint.
“Help us by putting it in writing,” Stewart said. “It’s not an arduous process.”
If someone is concerned about a book, the first step is to let the department manager know. The manager will try to resolve the concerns verbally. If that does not work, the person making the complaint will be asked to fill out a form.
The form is one page and asks the person if he’s read the book that he’s challenging, what book he would recommend in its place and what his specific concern is about the book.
Once the form is submitted, the manager will then read the challenged book, as well as reviews of the book, and make a recommendation. It will be sent to the director, who will decide whether the book stays or goes.
If the person is not satisfied, he may speak with the library director. If he still is not satisfied, he may speak to the library board at its next meeting.
Lesley said that in her 25 years at the library, only once has a challenge made it all the way to the board. Most times a concern is able to be resolved through conversation, she said.
Commissioner D.G. Reardon said that in the last three commissioners’ meetings, and the last library board meeting, people brought up a number of books that they thought were inappropriate, yet there haven’t been many challenges.
“That’s disturbing to me,” he said.
Three challenges were submitted late Wednesday, Lesley said. And one book was challenged earlier this year. Before this, the last challenge was submitted in 2018.
Commissioner Colleen Faber said parents do have a responsibility to monitor the different media their kids are consuming, but at the same time, those parents want to be sure that the library is a safe environment for their children.
“Is it fair to expect a certain level of morality for our library’s children’s materials?” she asked. “What would that morality or decency level be?”
The board members said that a book that one family finds offensive might be totally fine by the standards of another family.
“We try not to get caught up in the middle of those opinions,” Lesley said. “It’s going to be impossible to make everybody happy. That’s why we stand back and we don’t make those types of decisions for this community, we let the literature speak for itself, try to have a balanced viewpoint for those reasons because it’s a pretty dynamic thing.”
Faber asked if there was a community standard for morality and obscenity that can be followed. She brought up the Miller Test, the U.S. Supreme Court’s three-pronged test for determining whether speech can be labeled obscene and not protected by the First Amendment.
Anderson said although it sounds easy, it’s actually “very, very difficult” to implement.
“Applying that test has proved to be problematic, if not almost impossible, across the country,” he said.
At the last library board meeting, a couple of people read excerpts from “This Book Is Gay,” a nonfiction book in the library’s young adult section on the teen LGBTQ experience. Commissioner Del Shelstad asked the library board if they thought the book was appropriate for teens.
Stewart said she hasn’t had the chance to review the book, and that all she knows about it are the excerpts that were read without context. She placed a hold on the book, but it’s currently checked out. Board member Mandy Steward said she didn’t think it was appropriate.
Anderson said that he hasn’t seen the book and he doesn’t know what’s in it, and “until we have a formal challenge, we don’t necessarily know what book we’re talking about.”
“I find it really hard to believe that, with all of the newspaper articles that were written, the social media response, meetings ... that we’re going to play that we don’t know what we’re talking about,” Shelstad said.
Anderson said the library board shouldn’t assume anything from comments made at a meeting. If the challenge is put in writing, then the board will know exactly what the concerns are.
“They should have the chance to be very clear about what they mean,” he said. “They can do that in this form.”
In early July, Shelstad emailed Lesley about his concerns over the library promoting June as Pride Month and Rainbow Book Month. He asked her to forward the email to the library board. Within 20 minutes, he said, someone had made a Facebook post calling him a bigot.
“It’s pretty easy to make Del the bad guy because I want to ask these questions,” he said. “But these are the questions from the community. That doesn’t make me the bad guy because I want to ask them. It makes me a commissioner that cares about what the community thinks.”
Shelstad said there needs to be a balance between protecting people’s freedoms and protecting children, and that he doesn’t want to censor any books.
If it turns out that “This Book Is Gay” is problematic, instead of removing it, Shelstad suggested the library “put it in the adult section, then everybody’s happy.”
At the commission meeting last week, Kevin Bennett called out Reardon for being “quiet on an issue you can’t be quiet about.” Thursday, Reardon said even though he’s been quiet, he’s been listening.
He said he’s heard the numerous calls from the community for commissioners to do their jobs and do what’s right.
“The commissioners’ job is not to monitor and censor books in the library. The commissioners’ job is to choose our board members. Which we’ve done,” he said.
If people want to make changes, they should follow the processes that already are in place, Reardon said.
He worried that if the library started censoring books on the topic of the LGBTQ community, that could lead to other subjects being targeted.
“Pick a topic, it’s offensive to someone,” he said. “Are we going to take every book out of the library?”
“Stop talking about censoring, taking books out, burning books, and going back to the days of the Nazis,” he said.
The comments caused Bennett to storm out of the meeting.
“Nobody’s saying that! Nobody said censorship!” he said. “We said we want them in the adult section. You’re a liar!”