National Coalition Against Censorship joined the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center in criticizing the dismissal of four members of a library board for refusing to remove controversial books from the young adult section of the library in West Bend, Wisconsin. In a letter to the West Bend Common Council, the groups said that the dismissals threatened free speech in two ways–by punishing the library board members for attempting to apply objective criteria in the selection of books and by pressuring the library to remove the controversial books. “The role of a public library and its board members is to serve the entire community and to evaluate books and other library materials on the basis of objective criteria,” the letter said. “By removing half the members of the library board, the Common Council is imposing its opinions on the rest of the community.”
The controversy began in February when two patrons complained that the library’s young adult section includes both fiction and non-fiction about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. They accused the library of promoting “the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community” and demanded that the library add books “affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives.” They also demanded the removal of all “pornographic” books from the young adults section, including Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperCollins), Stephan Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Esther Drill’s Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a gURL (both Simon & Schuster).
The conflict reached the Common Council on April 21 when West Bend Mayor Kristin Deiss submitted the names of four members of the library board for a new three-year term. Alderman Terry Vrana said he disagreed with the board’s “ideology.” “I’m concerned about the morality of this city,” he said. The council voted 5-3 to dismiss the board members.
Download the letter as a pdf here.
Image by florian.b