On Tuesday, Homer’s Library Advisory Board unanimously voted to uphold a decision to keep 55 books in the children’s section of the public library. The decision followed a months-long debate over the future of children and young adult titles that largely feature LGBTQ themes.
In July, Library Director Dave Berry rejected a petition from Homer resident Madeline Veldstra to remove three books about gender identity from the children’s section of the library. After the request was rejected, Veldstra and a group of others appealed the decision with the Homer City Clerk’s office.
By late October, the group had added more than four dozen more titles to their list, and their petition had gathered about 600 signatures between the online and paper petitions. The library board initially met to discuss the issue in November in front of a packed chamber, but postponed a final decision until the new year so they could read and review each one.
At Tuesday’s meeting, more than 50 attendees gathered to hear the board’s verdict on the 55 contested books. Most supported Berry’s decision to keep the titles in the children’s section. More than 15 people expressed their support and only three attendees wanted the books removed. After an hour of public testimony, the board convened to discuss and vote on each title one-by-one.
Many of the board members, like Douglas Baily, questioned why some of the books were on the list in the first place.
“Some of the books relate to race,” Baily said. “Some of the books relate to leadership capabilities of people of color. I can’t find anything in many of those books that relates to LBGTQ [sic]. So how did they get on the list?”
Baily was referring to the book “Black is a Rainbow Color,” a book about Black history written from the perspective of a child. Board member Emilie Springer said the only thing she thought could be considered LGBTQ-themed in the book was the mention of the word “rainbow.”
Board members noted that a few books were contested simply because of the sexual orientation of the author.
“The author is gay,” said board member Brenda Dolma. “Sometimes that was the only thing.”
The seven-member board went on to uphold Berry’s decision to keep all 55 titles in the library. In a statement at the meeting, Berry said parents who would prefer to read books with heterosexual couples can pick from thousands of titles.
“There are 12,500 titles in the children’s and young adult collections combined,” Berry said. “The 55 titles on this list represent 0.4% of that collection.”
Alternatively, those titles can provide representation to people in marginalized groups who might not see themselves represented in mainstream culture, Berry said.
“If you are the kind of parent who would like to be able to sit down with your child in a kid’s room, open up a book and say, ‘Look, there’s your mom. And there’s your other mom. And isn’t it nice that there’s a book about us here to read?’” he said. “Well, we have a responsibility to stock those titles as well.”
Audience members praised both Berry’s initial decision and the board’s dedication to reading each title on the list.
“I feel like I kind of just sat through a super-strange book club,” said Homer City Council member Rachel Lord, speaking as a private citizen. “This was a very long list.”
Lord suggested changing the protocol for how contested books would be evaluated in the future.
“You as board members should not be in a position of trying to figure out what exactly is the issue with each and every book,” she said.
By voting to remove the books, Lord said, the board would be setting a precedent for any book with a publisher’s tag of “LGBTQ,” leading to what she called an “endless appeal.”
While several board members down-played the work of reading the 50-plus titles, or said they were uplifted by reading books that they found endearing, others like Brenda Dolma praised the work of librarians and the devotion of the public.
“I have so much more respect for our librarians. But I would like to thank all of Homer for caring about our library and the hard work that everyone has put in in different capacities,” she said.
This was the largest number of titles ever to be contested at one time at the Homer Public Library, according to Berry. The board plans to discuss its policy on handling contested content at its next meeting in February.