The Oconee County Library Board of Trustees on Monday granted two of five requests by citizens to reclassify books available through the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.
The citizens said they objected to the explicit, sexual content of the books. Four of the five books deal with LGBTQ+ issues. The fifth is focused on issues of consent.
In granting the two citizen requests, the Board of Trustees overruled the Athens Regional Library System’s Professional Reconsideration Review Committee, which recommended that the two books be retained in the Young Adult section of the library.
The Board voted to move the two books to the Adult section, as the Oconee County citizens had requested.
The Board accepted the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee’s recommendation that a third book be retained in the Juvenile section and a fourth book be retained in the Young Adult section.
The professional review committee recommended that a fifth book be moved from Juvenile to Young Adult classification, and the Library Board agreed with that recommendation.
In the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting on Monday, three citizens spoke against library restrictions on children’s access to library materials, and one called for “proper curation of books” in the library. None of those who asked for reclassification of five books spoke.
In other action, the Board voted to set the closing date of Nov. 24 for the Oconee County Library on Experimentation Station in Watkinsville in preparation for the January opening of the new library in Watkinsville’s Wire Park.
Decisions On Books
The Board took action on the five Requests for Reconsideration of Material under New Business 45 minutes into the meeting, which ran for an hour and 15 minutes and was held at the Bogart Library.
|Campbell With Review Documents|
Board Chair Mark Campbell went through each of the five requests, which had been received since the Board last met in July, reporting first on the recommendation of the Athens Regional Library System’s Professional Reconsideration Review Committee.
He then followed that with the recommendation of the review committee of the Library Board, called the Book Action Committee or Intellectual Freedom Committee.
Campbell chaired that six-member Book Action Committee.
“All of these recommendations were not unanimous,” Campbell said. “But the discussion and recommendations among the committee are what you see here,” he added, referring to the documents provided to each of the other six committee members present at the Monday meeting.
Campbell began with consideration of the book, Beyond Magenta: Transgender And Nonbinary Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin.
Cyndy Hartman had asked that the book be moved from the Young Adult section to the Adult Section, saying the book presented “adult sexual interactions, pedophilia, drug abuse/use.”
Campbell said the recommendation by the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee was to retain the material as currently classified, and that the Book Action Committee recommended reclassifying the book from the Young Adult section (6th grade to 12th grade) to the Adult section.
“There are things that would be very appropriate for someone who would be in high school but that may not be appropriate for someone who is in middle school,” Campbell said.
He said he was speaking, not for the Book Action Committee, but as someone who was on that committee.
Board Member Response
Board Member Angela Moss-Hill, who was not on the Book Action Committee, spoke in opposition to its recommendation.
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“Parents are responsible for their younger children in the library,” Moss-Hill said, echoing a theme of the three speakers who had addressed the Board at the beginning of the meeting.
“Parents should look at what children are doing,” she said. “That is a parent’s job, not our decision to make.”
“The book is for teens. It’s about teens,” she said. “It is nonfiction. It is interviews with teenagers and their experience as children. Some of it is really difficult material. I will say that. But it nothing that a teen that needs that won’t need.”
“And putting it in the adult section is very similar to just hiding it in the stacks,” she said.
“It is not just horrible material out there to change our children to something we don’t want them to be,” Moss-Hill said. “It is something that has information in that hopefully will give kids the chance to ask questions."
“Some adults may find it interesting, but I don’t think adults are the target audience for this book,” Daphne Norton said of the recommendation to move the book to the Adult section.
In the end, the Library Board voted 5 to 1 to move the book, with Moss-Hill voting against the decision.
Move To Biography
Kara Smith had asked the Board to remove the book, If You’re A Kid Like Gavin: The True Story Of A Young Trans Activist, by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, with illustrator J. Yang.
The book “is about a complex issue and inappropriate for young kids,” Smith wrote in her request for reclassification. She asked that the book be removed from the “children’s section.”
Campell reported that the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee recommended that the book remain in the current juvenile classification but be moved from the picture book category to biography.
The Book Action Committee recommended the same action, Campbell said. The book is more appropriate in biography, he said.
The Board accepted those recommendations unanimously.
Juvenile To Young Adult
Suzannah Heimel requested that the book, Welcome To Consent: How To Say No, When To Say Yes, And How To Be The Boss Of Your Own Body (Welcome To Your Body), by Yumi Stynes and Dr. Melissa Kang, be moved from the Young Adult section to the Adult section.
|Moss-Hill (Outstretched Arm)|
“The material is inappropriate for JUV shelving, ages birth to 5th grade,” Heimel wrote in her complaint. “There is discussion of sex, masturbation, horniness, anal sex, penetrative sex, etc.,” she said.
Campbell said the recommendation from the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee was to reclassify the material from the Juvenile section to the Young Adult section.
The Book Action Committee also recommended reclassifying the book to Young Adult from Juvenile.
The vote of the Board to make that move was unanimous.
Move To Graphic Novel In Adult
Rebecca Billings requested that the book, Welcome To St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure: A Graphic Novel, by Lewis Hancox, be moved from Young Adult to Adult classification.
“This book is inappropriate for the YA age group (11-18),” Billings wrote in explaining her request. “It talks about puberty blockers, top surgery, binders, packers, etc.”
Campbell said the recommendation of the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee was to retain the material as currently classified in Young Adult.
The recommendation of the Book Action Committee, Campbell said, was to reclassify the book from Young Adult to Graphic Novel, which is in the Adult section
The vote of the full Board to move the book to the Adult section was unanimous.
Retained In Young Adult
Pat Daugherty asked that the book, The ABC’s Of LGBT+: (Gender Identity Book For Teens, Teen & Young Adult LGBT Issues, by Ashley Hardell, be moved from Young Adult to Adult classification.
“This book discusses/introduces 80+ genders to kids,” Daugherty wrote. “It is confusing + inappropriate for this age group,” she continued.
Campbell said the Professional Reconsideration Review Committee recommended that the book remain classified as Young Adult.
Campbell said the Book Action Committee made the same recommendation.
The vote of the Board to accept those recommendations was unanimous.
Kurt Dahlstrom, the first to come forward in the Public Comment section at the beginning of the meeting on Monday, said “Children are in no danger by having access to these books.” He did not make specific reference to the books under review by the Board.
“The attempt to censor them is an attempt to tell children who feel different they are not wanted and are unloved by this community, Oconee County, Georgia,” Dahlstrom said.
“I am grateful for all of the inclusive programming that this library system has provided for my family,” Andrea Wellnitz, the second speaker, said. “It is designed for all families in the county.”
“As a parent I can choose what books come into my house,” she said. “What activities my children participate in. That’s not your job as the library board to decide that for me. That is my job as a parent. That is my right as a parent.”
“It is my job to prevent my children, when they are in the library, from accessing books that I don’t want them to access,” Wellnitz said. “That is not a librarian’s job.”
“And books should be classified where they need to be classified,” she said. “If they are classified as Young Adult they should stay there. And they should remain in that classification.”
Third And Fourth Speakers
“I think it is very important that individuals in Oconee County see more of what’s in the world,” Cynthia Hutchinson, the third speaker, said. “More of what is available and different perspectives.”
|Mauck (Mitchell To Her Right)|
“I think it is a critical right for parents to be able to determine what their children read,” she continued. “I do not believe it is the librarian’s job to do that. The library does a great job of offering books, and parents can and should be able to monitor what those items are.”
“Inclusion is very, very important,” she added.
“We all agree with intellectual freedom,” Julie Mauck, the final speaker, said. “People should be able to read what they want to read.”
“The question here is about the sexualization of children,” she said. “And it is about providing sexually explicit material for children.”
“What we do want is the proper curation of books,” Mauck said. “Nobody wants to ban books. It is well known that the sexualization of children at an early age is actually damaging to them. I mean, that’s scientific.”
“All people are asking in the community is to let Oconee County Library reflect the conservative values of this community,” Mauck said. “It is conservative values.”
“So I think all anybody on this side of the argument is asking is for another look to be had at what we are providing our kids,” Mauck said. “Everybody believes in intellectual freedom. We believe in the proper curation of books.”
Valerie Bell, Executive Director of the Athens Regional Library System, told the Board on Monday in her system report that the Board should approve a closing date for the existing library in preparation for the move to the new facility in Wire Park.
“We had a walkthrough with the contractor last week,” Campbell said after Bell made her comments. “I think things are going really well there.”
“So my hope is that our next meeting,” which is set for Jan. 8, “will not be at the current library location but will be in the new library location,” he said.
“Moving over 17,000 square feet of materials from one location to another” is more of a challenge than moving a residence, he said.
A grand opening for the new facility will be sometime in January of 2024, according to Campbell.
On Bell’s recommendation, the Board voted to close the existing library in Watkinsville on Nov. 24.
New Library Decisions
James Mitchell, Branch Manager for Oconee County Library, said “we’ve had an artist approach us about doing some sculpture at the new library.” Mitchell said he wanted to get Board reaction to the request.
Campbell said he would appoint a committee to consider artwork for both the inside and outside of the new library.
Bell told the Board that it had to decide what to do with the three plaques on the current library building that acknowledge those involved in construction and two renovations of the facility.
Bell said she did not think it would be possible to put those on the outside of the new building.
Campbell said he would explore options.
“I certainly want to honor anybody who has done a significant contributions to the library itself,” he said.
Penny Mills recorded the video below of the meeting of the Board, held at the Bogart Library.
Dahlstrom began speaking at 2:11 in the video.
Wellnitz began speaking at 5:11 in the video.
Hutchinson came forward to speak at 7:59.
Mauck began her comments at 9:52.
Discussion of the library move is at 42:33 in the video.
The discussion of the requests for reconsideration of the five books begins at 45:41 in the video.