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Library director applies 'community standards' to challenged books

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Jonathan Gallardo with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — More than two dozen books have been moved to a new adult section in the Campbell County Public Library as the library director applies community standards to each of the books to decide whether they’ll remain in the section or go back to their original shelves in the teen or children’s areas.

Library Director John Jackson moved books that were challenged in the past three years to the new adult section, which also has been referred to as the "human development" section.

He tried to find a way to determine what the local community standards are in general without specifically focusing on obscenity. He found that there are “very few ways” to do this outside of looking at the community’s elected officials.

The Campbell County Commissioners lean to the conservative side of things, both fiscally and socially.

“As popularly elected officials, one can then conclude that the elected officials are representative of the overarching belief system of Campbell County,” he wrote in his reviews of two of the challenged books.

The new adult section of the Campbell County Public Library, which is on the first floor next to the magazine section, has two shelves with a total of 12 rows of shelving.

The library’s collection development policy states that the library “takes seriously its obligation to not include sex acts or sexually explicit or graphic materials within the children and young adult sections that would be harmful to minors or impede their development.”

Jackson said he approaches each book as if he’s just checked it out from the library.

“I don’t read any reviews of the book at all, I’m going to look at the book with completely open eyes and no preconceived notion of what the book is about,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t even look at the past complaints of the book.”

He’ll read through the book, take notes based on what he knows is in the policy, and once completed, he’ll then read reviews and complaints from the challenge.

Then, based on the policy and applying community standards, Jackson will decide whether a book remains in the new adult section or goes back to its original shelf.

“A lot of them will go back, some will stay, it just depends on the review I do based on the policy that you have passed,” Jackson told the library board Monday.

He will read all of the books and decide whether they remain in the new adult section or go back to their original shelves.

So far, Jackson has read nine books, and he’s decided three of them will remain in the new adult section: “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson, “Identical” by Ellen Hopkins and “Be Amazing: A History of Pride” by Desmond Napoles.

“This Book is Gay,” which was the first book to be challenged, was in the teen nonfiction section. “Identical” is a novel that was in the teen fiction section, and “Be Amazing” was in the children’s section.

The following six books will go back to their original shelves:

  • “The Babysitters’ Coven,” by Kate Williams (teen section)
  • “Music From Another World,” by Robin Talley (teen section)
  • “A Quick Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities,” by Mandy G. and Jules Zuckerberg (teen section)
  • “Mary Wears What She Wants,” by Keith Negley (children’s section)
  • “Meena,” by Sine van Mol (children’s section)
  • “Trans Mission: My Quest for a Beard,” by Alex Bertie (teen section)

Jackson said he hopes to read through and issue a final decision on all of the books by June.

There are three challenged books that were not put in the new adult section. One, "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison, was already in the adult section when it was challenged.

The other two, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “A Quick Easy Guide to Sex & Disability” by A. Andrews were moved by then-director Terri Lesley from the teen section to the adult graphic novel section.


The reviews

“This Book is Gay” is about the LGBTQ experience and was criticized by residents for promoting sex and being pornographic.

“There are visual images of naked bodies, but none reach the threshold of being considered pornographic, although opponents of the book might make that argument,” Jackson wrote of the book. “As a result, one might argue that they violate the local standards of Wyoming in general and those of Gillette in particular.”

Jackson wrote that the book doesn’t offer an opposing viewpoint to “the author’s assumption that all people consider sex with both men and women” and it doesn’t offer “an alternative to joining the LGBTQ+ community.”

He wrote that the book can be used for educational purposes by teens but only when they’re guided by parents or guardians.

“Mary Wears What She Wants” is a children’s book about Dr. Mary Walker, who volunteered with the Union Army during the Civil War. Walker was arrested multiple times for wearing pants.

A challenge of the book claimed that it encourages the breakdown of the family, transgenderism, cross-dressing and rebellion.

“There has been made mention that the inference in this title's story is that cross dressing is acceptable and supported. I saw no indication that this was the message of this story,” Jackson wrote.

The book “doesn’t strain the bounds of local conservative values,” and that it promotes the idea that it’s “OK to be courageous and to be yourself,” he added.

“If anything, it illustrates the independence that most Wyoming residents feel and employ daily,” he wrote. “‘Mary Wears What She Wants’ is meant to be read aloud by parents to their children to encourage reading, the love of history, and to dream of bigger things.”

This story was published on March 28, 2024.

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