About 50 residents of Wasilla, Alaska, came to Monday night's City Council meeting to air concerns about the presence of a volume called This Book Is Gay in the children's section of the public library, with some of them calling the volume pornographic and librarians pedophiles.
"I can't imagine what kind of person would order that material and want to make it readily available for children," said resident Emily Hardy, according to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, a Wasilla newspaper. "That is straight-up pedophile kind of behavior."
The book, by U.K. author James Dawson, became a subject of controversy after a 10-year-old perused it in September and his mother complained about its content. It offers an overview of the LGBT rights movement as well as some frank discussion of sex acts. It was on a shelf in the Juvenile Nonfiction section of the library, which houses nonfiction books both in the Juvenile (age 8-12) and Young Adult (12-18) categories.
"I felt it was too sexually explicit to have in the younger section," the mother, Vanessa Campbell, told the Frontiersman last week. "I'm not challenging this book at all because it's addressed to LGBTQ people. It just shouldn't be in the mix with children's books."
She asked librarian Kathy "KJ" Martin-Albright to move the book to the Adult section, but Martin-Albright decided to leave it in Juvenile Nonfiction. Campbell appealed the librarian's decision and met last week with a library committee, but when some members of the public were turned away from the committee meeting, that led to a call for people to address the City Council.
While some who attended the council meeting objected to the book's content outright, some focused on its inclusion in the children's section. "I would doubt that Madame Bovary is in the juvenile section," Adam Pender told the council.
Martin-Albright said earlier that when city's new library opens next year, all nonfiction books will be housed together, regardless of reading level. That is a documented "best practice," she said. "Adults who have limited reading skills don't feel comfortable going into a children's section to get materials or information, even though it might be more appropriate and easier for them to understand those," she told the Frontiersman. "But they will browse everything interfiled, and it's the same with accelerated readers."
In the meantime, she said, the book might be moved to the health subsection of Juvenile Nonfiction instead of government, where it is placed now. A library committee will make that decision by December 6.
Some at the City Council meeting defended Martin-Albright. "I really resent the character assassination of Kathy Martin-Albright tonight," Friends of the Library president Jeanne Troshynski told the council after many of the commenters had left. "I believe that it is irresponsible to not stop that kind of comment. I really appreciate that you listen to everybody's comments and you're kind and respectful. I think that's important, but I think you need to support your staff, too. We always remind people in meetings that I chair that any character assassination on any staff is not acceptable. Period. End of story. That's not OK. In particular, I feel strongly about that because KJ has a tremendous character and cares tremendously about this community and children and follows the policy as it is outlined."
Troshynski added, "I don't know, the book doesn't sound that great to me, but it's a public library. And yes, we are censoring if we kick the book out."
Author Dawson defended his book in an email to the Frontiersman. "If parents think internet savvy young adults aren't aware of what consenting adults do in bed, they're kidding themselves," he wrote. "Would they rather they saw it in pornography or would they rather they took a responsible, sensible non-fiction title out of a library?"