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Photos: Library board rejects book bans pushed by conservative activists

Date:

Additional reporting by Bob Conrad

More than 100 people attended the Washoe County Library Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, many to provide heated public comment about Drag Queen Story Hour and literature in the library featuring LGBTQIA+ content. Those who spoke expressed outrage and concern on both sides of the issue.

Also discussed were books conservative activists wanted to be moved or removed, citing what they said were inappropriate adult issues in books. The books have LGBTQIA+ themes. Library staff, however, cited the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to View Statement.

“The Library recognizes that some materials may be controversial and that any given item may offend some,” the library’s policy notes. “Only the individual can define what materials are consistent with her/his own values. Individuals can apply those to the use of library materials for themselves.”

The ALA statement cited intellectual freedom to explain that “the role of the library is to provide materials in response to the needs of all segments of the community and (when available) to provide information on all sides of a given issue.” 

“I am sitting here in the hallway with many other concerned citizens because I want our librarians to know that I support them.”

Attempts to censor library materials should be resisted, the ALA notes. Historical legal cases were also cited to support the inclusion of library materials in collections, even books some may find objectionable.

About a half dozen people have requested that about a dozen library books be removed from library collections or that staff move the books to a “parental discretion section.”

Library Director Jeff Scott, in response to one petitioner, emphasized “a plurality of viewpoints” and said librarians “do not provide oversight over which materials might be appropriate for a user; we leave that to the individual and in the case of minors, let parents determine for their own children which materials are acceptable.”

The board rejected citizen calls to remove the books. Only board Chair Gianna Jacks voted to censor the books.

Drag Queen Story Hour debated again

Also discussed at length was Drag Queen Story Hour. Public comment, generally set at three minutes per person, was reduced to just two minutes per person for Wednesday evening at the direction of Jacks. The meeting’s agenda was lengthy, and Jacks allegedly refused to remove any agenda items, opting for the shorter comments instead.

Some commenters spoke in support of the story hour while others continued their criticism, with one mother saying communists are infiltrating the library.

Jenny Clark attended with her three small children and said she addressed the board as a “conflicted” mother. She called the library a “communist institution” and claimed her four-year-old daughter identified a book at the library to her as a “commie book.” 

More than 100 people attended the Washoe County Library Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, many to provide heated public comment about Drag Queen Story Hour and literature in the library featuring LGBTQIA+ content. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.
More than 100 people attended the Washoe County Library Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, many to provide heated public comment about Drag Queen Story Hour and literature in the library featuring LGBTQIA+ content. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.

Clark also said it was sad that she had to screen books for her four-year-old child and claimed her children bring books to her for approval, asking, “Is this ok, mommy? Is this a commie book?” 

She also accused the board of “grooming” and informed them that they were “not going to do that to my kids.” 

Clark’s remarks were met with laughter and smattering applause. Community member Lynn Arnone said she was an “avid user of the Washoe County Library System for the last 25 years and a proud parent of a transgender child.” 

She said she strongly supported Drag Queen Story Hour and felt the need to speak against efforts to prevent access to books that have been challenged. This sentiment was expressed by many in attendance, including Washoe County Commissioner Mariluz Garcia, who told This Is Reno that it was her choice and right as a parent to decide what content or programs are appropriate for her children.

“One hundred seventy-five people were here when I arrived to the meeting; standing room only,” she said. “I am sitting here in the hallway with many other concerned citizens because I want our librarians to know that I support them.”

Our Center Executive Director, Stacy Spain, also addressed the board to express her support for the library. Spain said children are not forced to attend Drag Queen Story Hour and that parents choose freely to participate with their children. 

More than 100 people attended the Washoe County Library Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, many to provide heated public comment about Drag Queen Story Hour and literature in the library featuring LGBTQIA+ content. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.
Library board chair Gianna Jacks. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.

“In fact, children can not attend without an adult with them,” she added.

Spain’s comments were met with head shaking and eye rolling by the mostly older people in opposition. Spain also expressed her “unwavering support for the story hour” as the leader at Our Center.

“The signaling out of queer and trans publications for banning is not only an attack on a cherished community event but also makes clear that the nationwide rise in anti-LGBTQI violence has become a very real local issue,” she said.

Washoe County Libraries Director Jeff Scott told This Is Reno he was looking forward to the meeting. Scott said it is essential to have representation and that having a Drag Queen Story Hour is “great because it shows that we are committed to that, and having collections that represent them is important.”

Eric Marks
Eric Markshttp://ericmarksphotography.com/
Born in 1971, Eric Marks was fortunate enough to grow up in a time and family where photography and literature were normal parts of his life. His parents were always enthusiastic and supportive of his photography as a child, and encouraged him to read and write as much as possible. From 2005 to 2012 he owned an award-winning, international, high definition video production company, and has produced video and photography in over 14 different countries on four continents. Eric majored at the University of Nevada, Reno in English/Writing and Art, graduating with English and Photography degrees in 2013, and again with an Art degree in 2018. He teaches all genres of photography at Truckee Meadows Community College, is a freelance photojournalist for several publications, and offers private photography instruction.

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