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Cromaine Library Board discusses material selection process and policy

In response to community comments and complaints, the Hartland Cromaine Library board discussed the policy behind selecting and organizing the library’s collection. At their meeting Thursday, the board explained that they’d received numerous emails from patrons detailing what they believed should or should not be accessible at the library. 

Only three speakers expressed a desire to further restrict “inappropriate” media: Alex Yarber, Angela Yarber, and Hartland School Board Trustee Glenn Gogoleski briefly argued their perspectives via Zoom. 

Alex Yarber said that he and his family are avid library users, but he was concerned over certain materials available to teens and children, citing the graphic novel Gender Queer as the sole example. 

Gender Queer is an autobiographical account of adolescent exploration of gender and sexual identity, and was the most frequently challenged book in schools and public libraries in 2021 and 2022. The graphic novel has been a centerpiece for those looking to censor or restrict access to books. 

Book banning has become a hot-button issue for libraries across the nation. PEN America– a non-profit that focuses on the intersection of literature and human rights– explained that book bans increased substantially during the 2022-2023 school year. The literature in question is most frequently challenged due to the themes of race, history, sexual orientation, and gender, as is the case with Gender Queer.

Library Director Sarah Neidert informed Yarber that the novel in question has been moved to the adult section of the library. 

She further explained that there are options for parents looking to control what media their child has access to: either only permitting said child to use their parent’s library card/account, or to accompany their child to the library. Several board members noted that regardless of what library policy stipulates and regardless of parental action, the majority of teens and young adults are competent enough in the catalog system to find material, not to mention that in a technologically advanced world, adolescents have access to these materials and more online.

The overwhelming majority of speakers during the call to the public expressed support for the library and board while also praising the collection’s diverse and inclusive nature.

Cassidy Connolly pointed out that the public library as an institution based in the First Amendment. Libraries have long been “a place where freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom to know and freedom to think, and freedom to learn take root.”

Connolly, a law student, also indicated that to ban or restrict access to any materials in the public library setting would be inherently unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that, due to the precedent established by the First Amendment, “the State may not…. contract the spectrum of available knowledge.” Additionally, Connolly quoted,  “the right of freedom of speech and press includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read, and freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom to teach.”

Kathleen Murray was among those who praised the Cromaine Library for its dedication to being “truthful and accessible.” She added that it is not up to a few members of the community to dictate what others can or cannot access.

Cindy Alesso quoted an adage well-known to library goers and avid readers, explaining that “books, movies, and music are mirrors and windows: you read something to see yourself, and your experiences… or you get to peek into someone else’s experiences.” Furthermore, as a librarian herself, Alesso noted that often parents will say that “they aren’t ready to discuss certain topics with their children… but they don’t realize that [their] child might be ready.”

In order to best reflect varying aspects of public perspective, the board’s proposed materials selection resolution states that “books with explicit diagrams or images of sexual activities or acts will be placed in the adult section.” The current policy already stipulates that the director or board review library materials.

Library trustee Jeannine Gogoleski, who is married to Glenn Gogoleski, stated that she wanted “to be 100% clear,” emphasizing that “no one wants to ban books.” Both she and Dawn Smith noted that they had both been accused of wanting to censor literature during election season, but both asserted that this was far from the truth. Smith went on to say that this compromise is intended to “make everyone feel comfortable at the library because we do want everyone to feel included,” while also ensuring that the board is “listening to the concerns of the community.”

According to a poll by the Michigan Library Association,  75% of those surveyed said that it is critical to protect young people’s access to books so they can learn about different perspectives and grow into adults who can think for themselves, while 80% said that “individual parents can set rules for their own children, but they do not have the right to decide for other parents what books are available to their children.”

The ultimate decision on this policy is currently pending as legal advisors are consulted to ensure that the language in the resolution best reflects the will of the board and the community.

Board Chair Holly Naylor added that the mission of the library board “is to look at the long-term wellbeing of the library and take into consideration all possible outcomes.”

The Library Board also discussed certain community criticisms regarding the library’s Pride Month display. In response, the board is also considering an amendment about public postings and flyers on their community board and events by outside agencies, stating that the “distribution or postings of materials by the library does not indicate the library’s endorsement of the issues or events promoted by these materials.”

However, that statement does not apply to library-created displays.

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