Gillette residents: move — don’t remove — controversial library books

Jonathan Gallardo, Gillette News Record via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 8/23/21

Campbell county commissioners listened to another round of public comment on the library controversy at their meeting Tuesday. There were a few new faces, as well as some familiar ones.

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Gillette residents: move — don’t remove — controversial library books


GILLETTE — Campbell county commissioners listened to another round of public comment on the library controversy at their meeting Tuesday. There were a few new faces, as well as some familiar ones.

Several residents asked the commissioners to move questionable books in the children and teen sections to the adult section so they’re less accessible to young people.

The commissioners moved the public comment period to the end of the meeting, so that the board could get its regular business out of the way before listening to residents.

Doug McGee said the fact that the library has received only a few challenges in the last few years “suggests the library is doing an excellent job managing the collection.”

He attended the special meeting Aug. 12 between the commissioners and the library board and was surprised that no books were formally challenged.

“I find it astonishing that a special meeting was called for a book which had not even had a formal complaint filed against it,” he said. “It seems a very small but very vocal part of the community wishes to bypass the established procedures and claim authority over disposition of individual times in the collection, which I think would set a very dangerous precedent.”

“Any attempts … to establish narrow standards to guide library staff in selecting materials for the collection would almost inevitably be challenged in court,” he said.

The commissioners should have asked if there was a formal complaint filed before calling a meeting, McGee said.

“Instead, we chose to pour gas on a fire and further divisions in the community,” he said.

Jordan Engdahl said it’s difficult for children who are struggling with their sexual identity to be who they are when they see adults in the community acting this way.

“Growing up here, it was not shocking to hear things that people said that were homophobic,” she said. “It was just our community standard, almost.”

Mike Clymer asked the commissioners and the community to take a common sense approach.

“We can’t just censor books and throw them out of the library because you don’t like them,” he said. “We’ve got to use some common sense.”

“We can’t just pull up and say, ‘I don’t like that book because it mentions the 'V' word,’” he said.

He said he’s read some of the books that were brought up as objectionable. He thought some of them were objectionable, but some of them were “simply hygiene books.”

And some teens might benefit from those books being available “because their parents didn’t tell them anything,” he said.

“Whether we agree or not, there are different lifestyles. People are wired different,” Clymer said, adding that books should be placed in age appropriate sections.

Chelsie Clem agreed that parents need to tell their kids about people who live alternative lifestyles, but “that doesn’t mean children have the discretion and understanding and maturity to deal with these issues.”

She said it’s OK to have those books in the library, but that they should be in the adult section.

“It’s already been proven and documented that when a child looks at porn — and don’t be telling me there is not porn in that library ... you’ll find it — it changes their DNA,” said Edie Reno.

Scott Clem said it comes down to a question of judgment.

“It is reasonable and responsible and good judgment to not put smut magazines in the children and teen section. Anyone who does these things has an error in judgment and discernment,” he said.

Movie theaters ID people before they watch R-rated movies, Clem said, and the library should exercise similar judgment. He understands the argument that parents have a responsibility to know what their kids are consuming, “but that doesn’t absolve the library from their judgment and their discernment.”

At the special meeting, the library board told people to use the proper channels to challenge a book. At that time, only four challenges had been submitted all year.

“That’s basically what we’re going to do. We have the forms, we are going to go up the ladder,” Ed Sisti said.

Kevin Bennett said that it’s because he’s against censorship that he didn’t file a formal complaint.

“If we were for censorship we would’ve filed hundreds of those forms. We’re not for censorship,” he said.

The commissioners demonstrated poor judgment in dealing with the library board “who pretended they didn’t even know, except for one, what materials we were talking about, when we spoke of them publicly for weeks on end," Bennett said.

“That doesn’t strike me as doing the proper job of the commissioners. If they appointed incompetent people who were fools ... those fools should be removed from their positions and other people put in their place,” he added.

Chelsie Clem said that a few years ago, she tried challenging a book that her daughter found in the children’s section. It mentioned souls being harvested, Clem said, and her daughter was disturbed. She filled out the form and turned it in, and she said the library called her back quickly, saying that the book had already been vetted.

“They completely disregarded any issue that I had with it,” she said.

Because of that experience, the next time she saw a questionable book in the library, she didn’t do anything about it.

“You’re going to see me and folks like me come up and we’re going to be up here because this problem isn’t going to go away until we see someone exercise good judgment,” she said.

At the special meeting, Commissioner D.G. Reardon told people to “stop talking about censoring, taking books out, burning books, and going back to the days of the Nazis.”

Bennett said from the beginning, he and his group have only asked for four things: that inappropriate books in the teen and children’s sections be moved to the adult section, that those who were responsible for those materials being in the wrong section be held accountable, that policies be put in place to prevent this from happening again, and that “those who showed poor judgment” be held accountable.

Reardon's comment was the first time book burning and Nazis had been mentioned since the debate began a month and a half ago.

On July 7, Susan Sisti suggested the county implement a process to take offensive books out of the library.

“Some places have a parental review board ... so parents can review what’s in our library and censor books,” she said. “Maybe we need to take books like this to the library board meeting to have them removed from the shelves.”

At that meeting, Clem said he understood the commissioners might not want to take a bite out of the censorship issue, but that they can choose what to promote and what not to promote.

Bennett pointed out that the county spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund social service agencies, many of which serve young people who are “at risk.” This can be avoided, he said, if sexually perverted materials were removed from the children and teen sections and put in the adult section.

“What we’re advocating will cost the taxpayer nothing, and will save the taxpayers thousands of dollars by keeping children that are at risk from being more at risk,” he said. “It is ridiculous that we have to be called Nazis for pointing that out and trying to protect our children.”

Clymer said he doesn’t believe people like Bennett and Clem are hateful, but he also doesn’t think that the other side is trying to lead children down a path of destruction.

“This battle is supposed to be for our kids. I don’t think one side is for the kids and one side is not,” he said. “I think we all want our kids to prosper, I think we all love our kids.”