Government | Sauk Valley News

Dixon Public Library Board considers stronger policy against censorship, discrimination

Discussion item follows recent requests to remove LGBTQ comic books containing sexual content

Kristine Schauff, library director at Rock Falls High School, speaks during the Dixon Public Library Board meeting July 11, 2022, against requests to remove LGBTQ comic books from the library.

DIXON – The Dixon Public Library Board will be considering policy changes Monday in response to concerns about censorship and discrimination over requests to remove LGBTQ comic books containing sexual content.

Two months ago, community members expressed concerns about sexual material in the young adult comic book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which is about coming out as nonbinary and contains sexual depictions about topics including oral sex. It was part of the library’s annual Pride Month display.

These two books are at the center of the controversy at Dixon Public Library. The graphic novels were put on display as part of Pride month and contain material that some think aren’t appropriate for younger aged children.

Around a dozen households submitted a letter to library director Antony Deter and city officials calling for the removal of the library’s Pride Month display.

It was a form letter from the conservative nonprofit CatholicVote “Hide the Pride” group, in which community members check out all the LGBTQ content they can from a library to remove the books from public display.

“Flags, signs and book displays based on how adults experience sexual attraction and gender identity have no place in an open and public space for children,” according to the letter.

The letter did not name specific books but said the group would be checking out and keeping all the LGBTQ books until the library removed the “inappropriate content from the shelves,” as well as refrained from buying “R-rated content.”

Last month, more than 100 community members attended the July library board meeting with a mix of about 19 people speaking either against the books or against censorship and LGBTQ discrimination.

Requests for reconsideration were filed to remove “Gender Queer” and adult comic book “Patience and Esther: An Edwardian Romance,” which always was in the adult section but not on display and had never been checked out.

“Gender Queer” and “Patience and Esther” are two of many LGBTQ books under attack at libraries across the nation as part of politicized book bans.

The library board does not have the authority to remove books; it’s up to the library director.

The library got “Gender Queer” almost three years ago, and it had been checked out only three times.

The library reviews and removes material every day for a variety of reasons, including damaged or moldy conditions, inaccurate or outdated information such as old medical books, or because people aren’t interested in the books.

Books also are often reviewed, and about 50 were moved to the adult section in the past.

Deter has said “Gender Queer” likely would have been moved to the adult section, but complaints went beyond the scope of sexual content accessible to minors and into constitutional violations.

The books were put out in a special Pride month display near the young adult section of the Dixon library.

The requests called for the books to be removed because of “pornography” but also for “sin,” “vulgarity” and “lesbianism.”

Removing them on a discriminatory basis would put the library in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Deter said.

The library board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Loveland Community House and Museum, and the board will consider policy changes that include bolstering rules against censorship as well as providing an appeal process that would allow the board to decide whether to remove material.

There also could be amendments to the public comment section adding prohibiting profane language to the clause that “abusive language and/or personal attacks will not be permitted,” and “comments disruptive to the running of the meeting will not be permitted.”

Business owner Bob Balayti speaks during the Dixon Public Library Board meeting July 11, 2022, calling for the removal of LGBTQ comic books from the library.

Clauses would be added to the library’s collection management and use section.

“While everyone is free to reject materials that they do not approve of for themselves and their children, they cannot restrict the freedom of others to choose what to read, hear or view,” the draft policy reads. “A diverse collection is important. Material will not be excluded because of the race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political or social view of either the author or the material.”

A section could be added for free access to library materials, which states:

“Selection guidelines do not guarantee that each item purchased for the library’s collection is suitable for each person who may choose to select it. Young people under the age of 18 have free access to materials from the adult collection, and parents may choose to advise their children in making an appropriate selection.”

Reconsideration of library materials requests will remain under the purview of the library director, but a community member could choose to appeal the director’s decision. The item would be placed on a board meeting agenda, the board would review the material, reconsideration form and staff findings, and make a final decision. No request would be considered for two years following a board decision on the same material, according to the proposed amendment.

Changes also would create provisions for staff commitment to selection responsibilities including to “diligently examine and keep apprised of reviews, prepublication lists, publisher’s catalogs and announcements, standard biographies and other sources, which serve as the basis for responsible selection” and to “develop and maintain a familiarity with and regularly as well as systematically assess the strengths and weaknesses of those sections which fall within their respective areas of responsibility. Selection of individual titles must take place within the context of purposeful selection management.”

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.