Kids’ Right to Read Project: On June 2, 2009, West Bend’s library board voted to keep the books where they are. What was your experience of this meeting and how did you feel upon hearing this decision?
Mary Reilly-Kliss: I am proud of the board. Due to open records law, the board had not spoken amongst ourselves directly about this issue prior to the June 2nd meeting. Everyone read prepared statements which underscored the importance of intellectual freedom and the right to read.
We were also taken aback by some of the comments made by the public, most notably one person who asked for the tarring and feathering of the library director, and the destruction and public burning of books.
However, common sense and intellectual freedom prevailed and the board chose to keep books where they are.
KRRP: Do you feel this issue has been resolved? What is your sense of the vibe at the library and in the community now?
MRK: My sense is that there will be more challenges to come. West Bend and the wider USA needs to find a balance in order to ensure every individual’s right to free speech and free expression is protected without imposing personal beliefs on others.
KRRP: The challenges focused on ‘homosexual’ themes in the books. Would you like to comment on this?
MRK: This is a huge part of the puzzle. I heard a statistic that every 15 minutes a young adult in this country commits suicide. Many of these youth are clearly struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and gender identity. As a former teacher, I say without hesitation that I would recommend the challenged books to my students. These novels demonstrate an understanding of individuality and humanity, At the meeting on the 2nd, a parent stood up and spoke about how her gay son could have used books like this 20 years ago to confront the rampant fear and mean spiritedness that often exists in schools and communities.