Library Book Controversy Spreads to Other Wyoming Counties
Some residents say children should not have access to certain books while others decry censorship
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jan 31, 2022
“We fully support the right of every parent to guide their children's reading, and always encourage parents and children to talk together about the materials that they are reading,” says Conrrado Saldivar, executive board president of the Wyoming Library Association. “We do not believe, however, that a parent's right to guide their child's reading includes a right to restrict what other children read or limit the materials available to other students.” (Photo by John Cover for the Wyoming Truth)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
The library book controversy that started in Campbell County last summer has surfaced in other parts of Wyoming and could gain even more traction, according to the president of the state’s library association.
The clash between censorship and the appropriateness of books for children and teens has migrated to at least two other counties, Laramie County and Natrona County, where people have complained publicly about certain library books. Another county, Teton County, has beefed up its book reconsideration process, a procedure for people to lodge formal complaints about materials.
“We anticipate it appearing in other libraries across the state,” said Conrrado Saldivar, executive board president of the Wyoming Library Association in Cheyenne. “We believe that parents know their children best. We fully support the right of every parent to guide their children’s reading, and always encourage parents and children to talk together about the materials that they are reading. We do not believe, however, that a parent’s right to guide their child’s reading includes a right to restrict what other children read or limit the materials available to other students.”
Multiple students in the Natrona County School District publicly defended books under scrutiny, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, at the latest board meeting on Jan. 10.
Student Allie Scroggins spoke about the importance of diversity and allowing different viewpoints and experiences to be shared through the books so they can understand the world as it is and not a censored version.
“In the library, there should be something for everyone that interests them and something that is not for everyone,” Scroggins said. “Diversity in libraries is important for sharing experiences of others and expanding that diversity. So, let’s not silence that and let’s continue to teach students the beautiful differences in our world.”
R.J. Schoen, a Kelly Walsh High School graduate, said she read the book “Gender Queer” when she was a high school senior and felt the novel conveyed her feelings as a transgender person.
“If we ban this book, we are showing every transgender and nonbinary student that they do not belong in our district,” Schoen said. “We tell them their stories must be removed in order to protect other students from knowledge of their very existence. The truth is when we remove novels that reflect students’ experiences from circulation, we send a very clear message that those students’ stories, experiences, thoughts and dreams also do not belong in our education system.”
Catherine Morris, a parent with two children attending Natrona County schools, said at the Jan. 10 meeting that “Gender Queer” does not belong on the shelf because it is an illustrated graphic novel with what she described as pornographic images throughout the book. She suggested the school district find a different book that appeals to the same audience.
“The Natrona County School District welcomes all public comments and stakeholders to bring forward their perspectives,” Tanya Southerland, a spokesperson for the school district, told the Wyoming Truth. “The Natrona County School District is committed to a collaborative environment dedicated to serving the best interest of all students and staff.”
The Natrona County School District administration reached out to individuals who expressed their concerns over some library books during a Dec. 13 board of trustees meeting to get more information about the books facing criticism, according to Southerland. She added officials also shared details on how to submit a request for review of materials. Yet, as of Jan. 24, she said the school district has not received a request for a review process for any books.
Meanwhile, Laramie County School District No. 1 parents have spoken out against at least a handful of books in school libraries, including “Grown” by Tiffany Jackson, which details a young girl’s journey to try to become a famous singer, and “Monday’s Not Coming,” also by Jackson, a novel about the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl, and “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins, which recounts the relationship between a high school student and crystal meth.
Shannon Ashby, a parent who has spoken at multiple board meetings, said the book “Grown” contains content about sexual abuse, opioid addiction and kidnapping and is available to middle school and high school students. She also criticized “Crank,” noting the book contains details about rape.
“Why are these books still in the library?” Ashby asked the school district’s board of trustees members at a Dec. 6 meeting. “I don’t want my 12-year-old daughter reading this garbage.”
Hopkins, the author of “Crank,” told the Wyoming Truth that she has faced book challenges often from parents concerned about her books’ content. However, she noted many challenges are now coming from people who don’t have children in school or who haven’t read her books. Another book of hers, “Traffick,” a story about five victims of sex trafficking, has come under fire as well.
“How I feel about them wanting my books removed is how I’ve always felt,” she said. “I write young adult [books] to encourage teens to make better choices. The best way I know to do that is to provide a picture of where a single bad choice can lead. Yes, they’re fiction, but they are solidly grounded in real life. I’ve raised three generations of kids, and am intimately aware of the things they face in their daily lives. My goal is to create a better future through shaping generations of informed, curious, critical thinkers.”
Nathan Winters, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming, a Christ-centered organization based in Cheyenne that advocates for policies and “biblical citizenship,” said there are a number of parents who have been concerned with what appears like an “overt effort to put age-inappropriate content in the hands of increasingly younger children.”
“Parents are obviously concerned with that,” said Winters. “I think our society in general recognizes that not all content is age appropriate, and that’s why we even have MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] ratings when it comes to movies. We recognize that with certain ages, some content would not be appropriate but would be better held off at a later time.”
James Fraley, Laramie County School District No. 1’s assistant superintendent of instruction, said the school system has not received any formal, written requests to remove books through their book review process from their libraries in more than a year and a half, although some parents at board meetings voiced their concerns about certain books.
“We have a board policy to ensure that parents have the right to provide input into the books their children may want to check out in our libraries,” Fraley said. “We have a process for a book challenge in our board policy that parents may request.”
At the Dec. 6 board meeting, Fraley noted parents can opt out of mature content for library checkouts and that the district is working with its vendor to identify books with adult themes. Students whose parents have completed the opt-out process will not be allowed to check out certain books, he said.
Fraley also mentioned the school system is in the process of identifying age-appropriate materials for elementary and junior high school libraries and improving its purchasing regulations for libraries across the district.
Laramie County School District No. 1 board of trustees members Alicia Smith and Christy Klaasen also suggested adopting an opt-in option rather than opt-out for parents when it comes to library materials, meaning parents would be automatically set up to exclude mature content when their children check out material.
“I understand there is an audience for those types of materials because they are written and sold, but we’re a family-friendly district,” Klaasen said during the Dec. 6 meeting. “We have children in our district.”
While the Teton County Library Board has not received a formal complaint about any books in its collection, the board decided at its Dec. 16 meeting to approve a new intellectual freedom policy as part of its book reconsideration process, where community members can contest library materials, according to Kip Roberson, director of library services.
The new intellectual freedom policy is a separate policy that explicitly states the Teton County Library’s firm belief in the First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression, Roberson said. He said the previous policy outlined how parents can submit complaints about materials but did not specifically address the importance of intellectual freedom. The updated policy became effective Jan. 1.
The intellectual freedom policy asserts that the selection of library materials is “made on the patron’s right to read, listen, or view, free from censorship by others.” It says anyone is free to reject books and other materials but cannot “restrict the freedom of others” and that the library upholds the rights of individuals to secure content even if they are “controversial, unorthodox or unacceptable to some.”
“Our intellectual freedom policy has been put into place in order to ensure that the library is a welcoming place for readers to discover and learn about the world in its great diversity,” Roberson said. “The library takes seriously its commitment to help all people, including those from marginalized communities, find and use books that speak to their individual needs. This policy helps clarify the importance of balancing community and individual needs with the constitutional right to free speech and access to information.
“What’s happening in Campbell County and in too many other jurisdictions across the country is not only sad, but it is undemocratic and a blatant attempt to strip citizens of their constitutional rights,” he added. “Individuals have the freedom to read and the freedom to choose what they read, and no one else should be allowed to abridge those rights.”
Sometime this year, the board also will review the library’s materials selection policy, which guides library staff about how they select materials for their collections, according to Roberson.
In Campbell County, where the controversy began in June, the library received 57 complaints, or requests for reconsideration forms, from 17 individuals against 29 books, according to Terri Lesley, the library’s director. Many of the books contained content about sex and LGBTQ topics.
Gillette residents Hugh and Susan Bennett filed a complaint to the Campbell County sheriff against the library for carrying books accessible to children about sex and LGBTQ topics such as “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, and “Doing It” by Hannah Witton. A county prosecutor announced Oct. 27 that he would not pursue charges.
Since the summer, several other county residents have launched complaints about many books in the library’s collection, such as “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, and requested books be moved out of the children’s section.
“We have ratings to restrict access of some materials to age-appropriate audiences,” said Scott Clem, a Central Baptist Church pastor and former state legislator who has been vocal about the library book controversy in the county. “For instance, many theaters will not allow juvenile access to rated R movies without parental consent. That type of restricted access is censorship.
“The issue is the library has different sections for different materials,” he said. “By way of having a children’s section, the library is affirming that, in its judgment, the materials in the children’s collection are appropriate for children. It’s the judgment of those in charge at the library that is being questioned by the public, and rightly so.”
Lesley, the library director, told the Wyoming Truth that the Campbell County Public Library has responded to all 57 complaints, and that the last time they received a book complaint was Nov. 8.