October 27, 2022 By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
After more than a year of controversies over sexually graphic library books in Gillette, the Campbell County Public Library board has voted to cut ties with the American Library Association.
The move also cuts funding and affiliation with the Wyoming Library Association, which is a chapter member of the ALA.
Pushing An Agenda?
Numerous members of the public commented during Monday’s regular meeting of the Campbell County Library Board in what became a contentious volley of opinions on whether the ALA has an agenda to indoctrinate and sexualize children.
People who supported cutting public money for ALA membership and events said the organization is run by a Marxist and it wants to overhaul traditional Western society. Those who opposed the change said the ALA is a valuable resource for librarians and seeks to expand children’s literacy.
The board voted 4-1 to cut public funding and official involvement with the ALA, though librarians may pay for their own membership without being penalized. Those in favor of the cut were board chair Sage Bear and members Charles Butler, Chelsie Collier and Darcie Lyon.
The one dissenter was Charlie Anderson who, according to his Facebook page, was formerly the city attorney for Gillette.
“The American Library Association was once a trusted resource,” said a public speaker during a lively debate at the meeting. “Its agenda (now) is to experiment with and contaminate the lives of innocent children, which is deceptive, unappreciated, immoral and not welcome in children’s education.”
The next speaker countered, saying the ALA’s only agenda “is to promote reading, libraries, library professionalism. They’re not a political entity.”
Another ALA proponent said that Gillette librarians now will have a difficult time reviewing books because the ALA helps them understand and categorize books without having to read them.
“Sounds like we already have somebody to review every book in this library,” he said, with possible sarcasm. “Have fun with that.”
Campbell County Library Director Terri Lesley did not immediately respond to a phone call from Cowboy State Daily requesting additional comment.
The debate also included multiple former librarians who said the ALA was a tremendous resource for them throughout their careers.
Wyoming Library Association president Conrrado Saldivar told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the WLA organizes book awards that can serve as a guidepost for librarians, but that librarians have the ultimate say on which books to order.
The ALA’s affiliate groups produce book lists guiding librarians on how to support different societal groups, he said.
Saldivar said he could not speak for the ALA, but the WLA believes the library’s disassociation from it is “unfortunate” and a “loss of support from the board itself.”
“WLA is here to support Wyoming library staff in general” and going forward, as much as permitted, he said.
The library for roughly 18 months has been embroiled in a public debate regarding sexual content in children’s and young-adult books.
About a year ago, Campbell County appointed an outside state prosecutor to consider obscenity and sexual-solicitation charges against library staff and board members. The prosecutor found that Wyoming law exempts librarians and educators from criminal obscenity charges. He also said the books might have “scientific” value and don’t fall under the law’s obscenity definitions – exemption or not.
The books in question were “How Do You Make a Baby” by Anna Fiske, “Doing It” by Hannah Witton, “Sex Is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew P. Smiler. Critics also questioned “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, but the prosecutor said that one was not delivered to him.
Multiple legislators now are considering repealing the obscenity exemption for librarians and educators.
‘How Do You Make A Baby’
One of the contested books, “How Do You Make a Baby,” is in the parenting section, with another in the reference section of the library, according to the state’s card catalog.
Using animated figures and text, the book details the human reproductive process from courtship to coitus to birth. Amazon.com recommends the book for ages 9-13, but it’s written at a 540 Lexile, or second-grade reading level.
‘Sex Is a Funny Word’
The other contested books remain in the juvenile and young-adult sections.
For example, the library has two copies of “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, according to the state card catalog. This comic, written for 8- to 11-year-olds, discusses gender and sexual identity, attraction, sex, masturbation and consent. It is LGBTQ-affirming. It depicts and describes female and male genitalia with text and cartoon pictures.
The book instructs children that if someone has been touching their sexual organs but coercing them not to tell anyone about it, they need to tell someone about it.
Silverberg’s book also depicts a cartoon character who is 8-and-a-half-years-old, masturbating in a bathtub.
“You may have discovered that touching some parts of your body, especially the middle parts, can make you feel warm and tingly,” the book reads. “Grown-ups call this kind of touch masturbation. Masturbation is when we touch ourselves, usually our middle parts, to get that warm and tingly feeling.”
“Sex is a Funny Word” has won multiple awards from the American Library Association.
The library board also voted 3-2 to add the words “while reflecting community standards” to its mission statement. The statement now will read: “Our mission is to provide diverse cultural opportunities while reflecting community standards for reading, learning and entertainment to all citizens of our community. We lead the way to a universe of information with personal service and technology.”
Anderson, with Lyon, voted against the change.
Anderson said he didn’t want to change the library’s mission statement because it would “run the risk of … weaving a lot of life into the expression of community standards, which would lead people to think we would be able to violate the First Amendment under the guise of following something as nebulous as community standards.”
Anderson noted that the city of Gillette in 2016 passed a resolution “promoting a diverse community and being against discrimination on LGBT issues as well as other issues.”
Bear said she still supported changing the mission statement because the board relies “heavily” on librarians and should be able to trust librarians to choose books that are right for the community they serve.
Butler agreed with Bear, saying that, “It’s very, very important for (librarians) to remember that this is about Campbell County and everybody in Campbell County.”
Bear did not immediately respond to a message requesting additional comment.