This blog was written by Courtney Kincaid, recipient of the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award Honorable Mention.
I shake my head every day I hear that the freedom to read is being challenged. I feel we should be past this issue. Maybe challenges happened years or decades ago, but not now, right? Wrong. They’re still happening and in some instances, more frequently than ever before. It happened to me.
It happened to my public library. It happened in my community. In the summer and fall of 2015, I faced a long 21-week challenge regarding two picture books, as well as a challenge on our library policies.
This process began May 15, 2015, when a mother found This Day in June by Gayle Pitman on our children’s New Book display. She brought the book to the front desk and asked to remove the new sticker and take it off the new rounder. The book was taken to the children’s librarian’s desk and then picked up to be shelved in the regular picture book shelving. Four days later, the same mother checked the book out.
I talked with the mother about her concerns, but she was still upset. About a week later she returned to check out My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. The two books were discussed at length at a local political group meeting as well as at many churches in the community. The county judge and others were approached at church and asked about the books.
On June 1, the library received 52 Requests for Reconsideration forms delivered by the mother. Of the 52 forms: 38 asked to ban the books, 9 asked to move the books and 5 did not complete that particular section. From those forms, there were 2 mentions to burn the books and 2 forms were anonymous. I immediately spoke with my Library Advisory Board and Commissioners and County Judge, following our policy and procedures.
On June 8, the Library Advisory Board held a hearing for the public regarding the books. Twelve people requested to pull the books (and zero signed up to speak) and 14 people requested to keep the books where they were (with 9 signed up to speak). Three people did not specify their preference.
The board unanimously voted to keep the books and composed a letter to me, with their suggestion and advice to keep the books where they were originally shelved.
After speaking to author, Gayle Pitman, and receiving her feedback on the issue, I decided to try and work with the community and move her book to the adult nonfiction section (306.76) because I could consider her book used as a teaching tool for parents and caregivers. This book is more than just a picture book. It’s a great informational book and encourages a positive discussion about the LGBT community. Upon the board’s advice, and agreeing with their decision, I decided to keep My Princess Boy in the picture book shelving. Letters of the decision from the board and me were sent out to everyone who submitted the Reconsideration Forms.
Unhappy about the decision, the community took this issue to Commissioners’ Court on July 14. Over 200 people showed up including media from the Dallas Ft. Worth and Austin areas. People from both sides voiced their opinion about the issue. The court session lasted several hours. The court did not vote to remove or keep the books as this was just a public forum.
The board and I had been working on revising our policies for about a year (well before this started), and we were waiting to finalize the book challenges so we can finish that particular policy. I brought the policies to court, which is typically a consent agenda type of vote, but for transparency reasons, the court wanted me to discuss the changes in court and allow public feedback. The court decided to give this local political group more time to review the policies, so it was tabled. After some back and forth and another meeting with the political group and the library advisory board, the policies were finally passed unanimously in court on October 13.
My strategy for handling this issue was to immediately talk with the Library Advisory Board Chairperson, David Wells as well as all members of the Commissioners’ Court. Then I contacted Texas Library Association, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the County Attorney, and Friends of the Library. I chose to contact supportive patrons, since the challenge escalated to such a large issue – and they could speak positively for the library. I contacted other librarians and they had some great advice. I didn’t contact the ACLU or NCAC, but someone else did, and they were very helpful during this process. [NCTE signed onto the letter NCAC sent.]
I received about 15 open records requests – that I know of. These requests were from the political party and a couple of law firms. I stayed professional in all correspondence and was very accurate with information I sent out.
Media can play a huge part during book challenges. Our issue was picked up from the LA Times to news sources in Europe. Most information I read about challenges urge you to go to the newspaper and other media. We chose not to do so because we didn’t do that with a previous reconsideration item from a different patron about a year before this happened. We didn’t want to sensationalize it ourselves because of the topic; we wanted to do everything as we have done in the past.
Books should not be burned, removed, or placed where users are intimidated by having to ask where to find them. Moving books is, in effect, hiding them or keeping them out of reach of the intended user. The author of This Day in June, Gayle Pitman, said the placement of her book in the adult non-fiction area is not ideal, but she understood what was going on. It was nice to have that conversation with her to talk about what was going on in this community.
A challenge is more than one person’s expression of a point of view; it is an attempt to remove items from others. I’m thankful for those who supported my decision in this matter, the many supporters from around the nation who sent me emails and letters of support, the library advisory board, ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (specifically Kristin Pekoll), ACLU, and NCAC.
Kristen Pekoll and Courtney Kincaid Meet at NCTE
Courtney Kincaid is the former director of the Hood County Public Library in Granbury, Texas. She now works for the North Richland Hills Public Library.