Controversial memoir ‘Gender Queer’ to be discussed at library board meeting

Published 3:03 pm Monday, December 19, 2022

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By Matt Cizek and Gillian Stawisynzski

A controversial graphic novel is on the docket of the next Clark County Public Library Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday.

The work, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” received an Alex Award in 2020, an award the American Library Association gives to books that appeal to individuals ages 12 to 18.

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The graphic novel is described as a coming-of-age story that traces author Maia Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood while exploring gender identity and sexuality. Ultimately, Kobabe identifies as non-binary.

However, due to controversial sexual and gender identity content, the graphic novel was also ranked the most challenged book of 2021 by the American Library Association.

The book’s contents became a discussion topic at a library board meeting on Nov. 16.

Four library board members – Doug Christopher, Tim Janes, Mike Wattenberger, and Dawn Alvarado – have raised concerns about “Gender Queer.”

“It’s still problematic to me that someone under the age of 18 can get that book in our library”, said Janes. “It’s not about [an] individual liberties battle. It’s about parental rights and what a public taxpayer institution has the obligation to do.”

Scott Hisle, whose daughter is a librarian in Boyle County, spoke of his concerns with taking action or adopting a new policy.

“She always is preaching to me about trying to make sure…we’re making as many things available to the public as possible,” he said. “If the board takes a vote, and it’s a majority vote to remove this book or to essentially censor it, I think we’re begging for a public fight that’s not out there right now.”

The graphic novel is placed in the Adult Biography section of the Clark County Public Library, though it is temporarily pulled per policy as the situation is under debate and is also available digitally through HOOPLA, a web and mobile library media streaming platform which has parental controls.

The book will be reconsidered by the board on Wednesday’s meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m.

The agenda and a link to the Zoom feed of the meeting can be found on the library’s website:

A look at the library’s selection of and removal of content policy

The Clark County Public Library (CCPL) Collection Development Policies govern the selection and acquisition of books within CCPL libraries. The Board of Trustees create it each year. It lays out the goals, guidelines, and restrictions of the library’s book selection process.

Separately, the library executive director is responsible for the book selection and all library activities. They follow the policies created by the board and the executive director.

On the first page of this manual, an introductory statement previews the primary goal of the library’s collection. The statement reads: “A diverse community of readers deserves a diverse selection.”

According to the Oxford dictionary, these are the definitions of the word diverse:

• Showing a great deal of variety; very different.

• Including or Involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.

Here reads the library collection’s primary goal: “To develop and maintain the most well-balanced, well-informed, timely, and attractive collection possible within the parameters of available time, budget, and space.”

The manual continues, explaining a blatant restriction of the library’s book selectors. “If a selector bows to personal belief before professional ethics and training when selecting (or NOT selecting) items, this is considered a form of censorship. This is pertinent to all aspects and viewpoints of a particular topic, and we strive to achieve balanced views of topics whenever possible.”

A section named “General Materials Selection Policy” lists several specific policies.

“Community Analysis” is listed as one of the necessary steps in cultivating a collection policy. The section reads, “Flexibility and constant awareness of the changing needs of many different kinds of people the library serves is essential in book collection.”

The “Objectives” section highlights the purpose of the selection process. It states that in addition to providing “home reading,” the purpose is to obtain books to further the library program of “giving information, reference assistance, and help to those engaging in educational pursuits.”

• A criteria for book selection is listed, finishing out this section. According to the manual, selected books must adhere to the following standards:

• Accurate information.

• Permanent or timely value.

• Authoritativeness.

• Clear presentation and readability.

• Social Significance.

• Present all major facets of controversial issues.

• Balance special interest groups with general demand.

Include materials of doubtful value occasionally for their timeliness (campaign books, books of a specific popular topic.)

The list does include some criteria for books that should be specifically avoided. These are books that poorly, sensationally, or offensively depict religion, sex hygiene, and prejudice against any identity.

The manual continues this train of thought with a caveat. Although some might be offended by a topic, a certain text may be allowed if it discusses issues pertinent to the human experience.

“On the other hand, serious works which present honest aspects of some problems, or of life, are not necessarily excluded because of perceived coarse language or frankness, or explicit images or textual description.”

The Clark County Public Library has a process for book removals and reconsideration detailed in its manual.

First, a patron must complete a “Request for reclassification of materials” form and turn it in to library staff. Then, staff must bring the request form and every copy of the book to the library director. When doing this, the staff member must also place a hold on all copies of the book, so they do not go back into circulation.

The director then reviews the form to check if it has the right classification. If it does not, it is sent to be reclassified. If it does, the review process continues. While keeping the concerned patron informed, the director brings the book to the selector(s) to discuss how to move forward before they bring the issue to the Board of Directors.

The board of directors reviews the material and makes the final decision on the material.