Library to survey community and audit books for teens

The Bartholomew County Library has drafted a community survey about library materials for distribution in January and is also working on a diversity audit of all items in its teen collection.

The moves come after a series of library board meetings in which some advocated certain teen section books be moved to another area of the library or that they be banned from the facility, while others decried those sentiments as censorship. Many of the books in question dealt with LGBTQ issues.

Nine people spoke at Monday’s meeting, all against the removal of items from the teen section, saying it amounted to censorship. About 35 people attended the meeting.

Library Director Jason Hatton said the community survey will be on the library’s website next month and promoted through social media. Surveys will also be available when the board of trustees meet again in the library’s Red Room on Jan. 16.

Meanwhile, library staff are working on the diversity audit of all items within the teen collection. It documents a book’s author, title and protagonist and categorizes each in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities and age, Hatton said. The audit will provide the library with a better understanding of what materials they have on the shelves in the teen section, he said.

“We’ll be able to get some percentages in order to get some good hard data regarding what we are talking about and making sure everyone is on the same page,” Hatton said. “It may show that, in some areas, we may be where we should not be in terms of percentages.”

Once the data is complete, the information will be utilized to develop a plan that utilizes best practices from libraries across the country, Hatton said. He has instructed staff members to attempt to complete the audit by Feb. 17.

While church leaders insisted in earlier meetings they were not targeting books dealing with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, local author and publisher Paul Hoffman said he is skeptical.

“I hear this isn’t a LGBTQ agenda, but every book that has been challenged has been a LGBTQ theme,” Hoffman said. “At an August meeting, board member Billie Whitted complained about members of the LGBTQ community starting a Pride Day. There were also speakers at the October meeting who wore anti-LGBTQ clothing.”

Hoffman also said he recently learned someone tried to have a book clearly labeled as “adult satire” transferred into the children’s collection – possibly to stir up controversy. In addition, Hoffman said he heard someone on a local Christian radio station claim that the Bartholomew County Library has a satanic agenda.

In their totality, all of these statements and actions increase non-acceptance, bullying, family rejection, threats, injuries, sexual violence and suicide among young members of the LGBTQ community, Hoffman said.

“LGBTQ youth suicide rates are nearly twice that of all U.S. teens,” Hoffman said. “Studies show that LGBTQ people are not inherently prone to a higher risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identification. It’s because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”

Audience member Christina Ebersole made a reference to the Nov. 12 killing of five people and wounding of 17 more during an attack at a Colorado Springs, Colorado nightclub patronized by members of the LGBTQ community.

“If you scoff at that and say you think that was well-deserved, I ask that you do some soul searching,” Ebersole said.

Another speaker, Michelle Carr, told the board that efforts to either ban or limit access to books just makes more people want to read them – including herself. She also contends that when someone wants to censor books, it says more about what type of person they are, rather than the reader.

While there has been local controversy about the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, there are passages where the author writes it was through reading another book titled ”Touching a Nerve” by Patricia S. Churchland that Kobabe claims finally helped her come to terms with her natural tendencies, speaker Terri Leonard said.

“We don’t want to take that away from a person who needs to know that,” Leonard told the library board.

Audience member Joy Lawler said she doesn’t believe religion should play a part in decisions the library makes about books. Lawler also voiced strong disagreement with those who claim a person can choose their sexuality.

“Each LGBTQ person is wonderfully made just as God created them,” Lawler said. “I do not believe it is in any way Christian – and is, in fact, anti-Christian – to mistreat God’s creations in the way that many so-called Christians are doing.”

Local resident Sunny Currier made her point in a unique way by stating her young daughter, who is in an accelerated reading program, read a book obtained through her school library that depicted a teen in mental anguish who subsequently commits suicide.

Although the daughter became emotionally distraught by the book, Currier said she did not seek to either ban or move the book. Instead, she asked the school librarian for a list of books for children with a high reading level that doesn’t have such mature themes, she said.

“I don’t mind if a teen of mine reads a book referencing sexuality, but I want to protect them from the media that hardens them to hate, cruelty and violence,” Currier said. “Just as responsible parents do with movies, video games and the internet.”