HOMER — The Homer Public Library Advisory Board decided during their regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17 to uphold the library director’s original decision from July 5, 2022, and keep 55 titles purported to contain LGBTQ+ themes in the children’s and young adult areas, rather than moving them to a separate location within the library.
A citizen’s group last year submitted a petition with about 510 signatures asking that the books be removed from the children’s section. After the Library Director Dave Berry denied the petition, Madeline Veldstra, who led the petition effort, appealed his decision to the Library Advisory Board, the Homer News previously reported.
The question before the board, which was also the subject of discussion at their last regular meeting on Nov. 15, was whether to uphold Berry’s decision in full and leave the materials where they are, reverse his decision in full and interfile the materials with the adult books, or consider the materials on a title-by-title basis.
The Jan. 17 meeting, which lasted approximately four hours, featured public testimony from audience members present both in person and over the phone or Zoom. Written testimonies from non-city and city residents were also made available to the board.
Both written and oral testimonies appeared overwhelmingly in favor of upholding the library director’s decision regarding the contested materials, though there were some in opposition.
Nancy Lord, who was present at the Nov. 15 meeting, spoke in favor of upholding library policy and the library director’s decision to maintain the contested titles in the juvenile collection. She said she reviewed a number of the books and spent time in the children’s room to see how the books are categorized, organized and arranged.
“ … the books that some would like to have removed are written for children, recommended by library professionals, and selected by our own library professionals as appropriate for our community,” she said. “They belong in the children’s section of the library.”
Sochi Lopez, representing the Homer Pride Committee, read from a public statement that was submitted by the committee to Berry and the board on Jan. 16 emphasizing that “LGBTQIA2S+ books in our public library are vital to our youth.”
“A public library is a crucial resource for folks in our community,” Lopez read. “We stand behind the library’s mission statement.”
She then quoted the statement:
“’The Homer Public Library serves the diverse needs of our community members by providing access to information, promoting literacy, and facilitating lifelong learning. We foster education, personal well-being, cultural creativity, community engagement, and economic development.’”
After Lopez sat down, petition leader Madeline Veldstra, who had appealed Berry’s decision to the board, spoke, referencing the Homer Public Library’s removal of several Dr. Seuss books in early 2021 due to their containing what the library considered to be racist content.
“The truth is, the people who oppose my appeal … and I actually have one basic belief in common,” Veldstra said. “We both recognize that there are certain topics that are simply not appropriate for children to have free access to.”
She said the library was willing to regulate books based on the possibility that children might not be prepared to encounter racist content.
“We both think that certain topics should be approached with parental guidance,” she said. “So explain to me why sexuality is not one of those topics.”
After several more community members spoke in favor of upholding the library director’s original decision, Homer City Council member Rachel Lord was called to the lectern. Lord also spoke to upholding Berry’s decision, citing the set of policies that governs the library and board in their decision-making.
“I don’t see how this works if this decision is not upheld in its entirety,” Lord said, noting that staff follow library protocols, experience and library science.
“The library is a science, and how books are published, and where they are shelved, and the audience for whom they are shelved is important,” she said.
She emphasized, however, that ultimately the decisions on what children read should made by parents.
” … But again, every book that my kids encounter, I am their parent. I am ultimately in charge of their consumption, their questions, our family values.”
Following the conclusion of public commentary, the board moved forward to the appeal. Ahead of their consideration of titles, the board chair gave Berry an opportunity to speak.
“My heart goes out to those parents who come in to try and protect their kids. … I can understand that. I can relate to that,” Berry said. “But we do have a responsibility to ensure that every parent has the tool to raise their own children the way that they see fit.”
For parents who would prefer to read only books with heterosexual couples and nuclear families, “I can give you thousands of books that will fit that description. There are 12,500 titles in the children’s and young adult collections combined. The 55 titles on this list represent 0.4% of that collection,” he said.
He asked the library board to “please leave these materials where they are, so that we can continue to serve the entire community.”
The board moved forward to considering each of the contested materials on a title-by-title basis. The board took a vote on each title to either uphold the library director’s decision and keep that specific title in the children’s section, or to repeal the library director’s decision and interfile that specific title with the adult books in accordance with the Collection Development Policy.
The first book considered by the Board was “A Crow of His Own” by Megan Dowd Lambert. The board passed a motion to uphold the library director’s decision for this title, without opposition. Board member Doug Baily did offer one item for discussion regarding the title.
“There was nothing in this book, that I could discern, that was LGBTQ-influenced,” Baily said. “It’s a book about changes of voice that every male has. In this case it happened to be a male rooster, but I don’t read that as an LGBT issue, and I don’t think this is an LGBT-related book in any way.”
Baily said he had been under the impression, based on the language in the petition, that the books all featured an “LGBT relationship.”
“The conclusion that I’ve reached …[is] that this is not a list of LGBTQ books,” Baily said. “Some of the books are that way. Some of the books relate to race. Some of the books relate to leadership capabilities of people of color.”
Several other board members also commented on how they found very few LGBTQ-related things in the contested books. The board continued with voting on each title in the list.
After two hours of discussion, the board voted to uphold Berry’s decision on all 55 contested titles without any opposition.
Following the vote, public commentary was reopened. Rachel Lord suggested that future appeals to the board should specify the issue taken with a title and its location within the book.
“Every single title should have to be defended by the appellant as to what their reasoning is,” Lord said. “You as board members should not, I believe, be [put] in a position of trying to figure out what exactly is the issue with each and every book.”
Nancy Lord also spoke in favor of revisiting the process for patrons to appeal to the Library Advisory Board.
Following the vote, Veldstra returned to the lectern with a suggestion for labeling books that may contain controversial themes.
The next regular meeting of the Library Advisory Board will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Audio recordings with transcriptions for the full Jan. 17 meeting are available on the Library Advisory Board website at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/lab/library-advisory-board-regular-meeting-38.
Editor’s Note: Homer News senior reporter Emilie Springer is a current member of the library advisory board.