Trustees of the ImagineIF Board voted Thursday to create a “Parent Resources” section in the library to house books deemed unsuitable for children to read without parental guidance.
The decision comes after a challenge to Anastasia Higginbotham’s book Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, which deals with white privilege and racism. In the complaint that Dr. Michele Taylor submitted to the board, she said she believes the book creates “shame and judgment in children while it burdens them with the issue of racism.”
During the discussion of the book at Thursday’s meeting, most board members agreed.
Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson requested that the book be removed from library shelves. She said she understands that finding new ideas is a way to broaden horizons, but when it comes to other people’s children, that thought process doesn’t apply.
“Child librarians should use common sense, their knowledge of child development, and their experience of working with a large number of children to guide their book selection. Choose what’s age-appropriate and avoid indoctrination — avoid things that scare or confuse kids,” Cuthbertson said.
Before being appointed to the board, Cuthbertson was the first to challenge the book Gender Queer last fall, which sparked intense community debate and paved the way for other topical book challenges at ImagineIF. The trustees decided in February to indefinitely postpone a decision on Gender Queer, but decided to keep another contested book, Lawn Boy, in the library’s collection.
Regarding Not My Idea, trustee David Ingram said he believed the book and its themes were too complicated for children to understand and that they could not credibly analyze concepts such as racism.
“It’s packed with adult themes and opinions that far exceed the critical thinking abilities of the target audience of children aged 3 to 10… I think it’s indoctrinative material, especially where the involvement and interpretation of the parent or guardian may not be there.” is,” said Ingram.
Ingram made an additional motion to confiscate the book at a station where it would be available for loan only to those who specifically asked the library staff. Both motions and the discussion among the trustees were rejected by Deputy Director Sean Anderson, who called the board’s discussion “inappropriate and odious.”
“With the intention of being a public library, our intention is to invite more and more materials and not to control thinking by removing things that we find uncomfortable – that four or even five people find uncomfortable”, said Anderson.
The decision comes as ImagineIF celebrates Banned Book Week, celebrated by libraries across the United States to raise awareness of “the freedom to read.” ImagineIF has shared the difference between a ‘book challenge’ and a ‘book ban’ on their Facebook page and created an exhibit about famous banned books at the Kalispell Library, encouraging visitors to learn more about why these books are in the first case were banned place.
At the meeting, Library Director Ashley Cummins also resisted removing or confiscating the book on the grounds that the library would not have enough space to separate books that someone might find inappropriate.
“This is very subjective and I receive several complaints from different quarters every day. Most of these are resolved informally, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and I think that would open a can of worms that you are unprepared for,” Cummins said.
For the past few months, library staff have been working with parents to ensure they understand how to manage their child’s library account, Anderson told trustees, adding that the library includes what is deemed appropriate for the till hands of the child’s parents.
Cummins said in discussions with the book challenger and the children’s librarian that they had suggested the idea of a parenting resources section for children. She said the challenger was not happy with the idea and wanted the book removed entirely.
“I don’t know if setting up this section in this way will be helpful,” Cummins said.
Board Chairman Doug Adams played it safe when discussing the book’s removal, endorsing the idea of a parenting resources section. He spoke about growing up in South Carolina during the civil rights era, adding that he spent time breaking down his own prejudices. He said while he thinks the book is inappropriate, he doesn’t think it’s dangerous.
“I would go further and say if this book isn’t dangerous, is that the hill we want to die on? Do we want to defend this in court? I don’t think this book comes anywhere near that level, which is what I’d like to defend in court,” Adams said.
During the discussion, Cuthbertson said she understands the staff’s perspective but believes the library “should not foist extremist material on children.” Anderson pushed back the comment, asking how the staff did it “because it’s on a shelf among thousands of other books.”
The Trustees voted unanimously to create the Higher Resources section where Not My Idea would be placed on the shelves along with any other books that library staff deemed appropriate for that section.
THE WHITEBOARD heard from many people during public comments, most of whom asked the board not to interfere in the business of removing books from the library’s collection.
Valerie McGarvey said the library faces another book challenge because a book has made someone feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate or against library policies.
“I would like to remind us once again that individual customers cannot choose which books I would like to view and read to my grandchildren. It’s that simple: If you don’t like the book, don’t watch it. Again, I am not afraid that my children and grandchildren will learn about racism. A public library guarantees the public the right to read,” McGarvey said.
Another book challenge was presented to the board and submitted by their next meeting in October to give the Trustees time to read the book before taking action.
In the complaint for the Why Children Matter book, Doug Wilson said the book had to be removed due to pedophilia allegations against the author, adding that it was also poorly written. The book is described as a “Christian children’s education book,” and while it appears to be used in the teachings of many organizations, it has also been criticized for Wilson’s claims.