Orange City Public Library Pressured to Label, Segregate LGBTQ Material

Update: The Orange City Public Library's board decided on March 20 to group books by subject and subcategory rather than alphabetical order by an author’s name. The new categorization method will be implemented on a trial basis, with a few subjects to start, this summer. If patrons like the new system, explained board president Jared Weber, it will expand to the rest of the library. The board will vote next month on the request to revise library policy to require additional input on acquisitions.
Update: The Orange City Public Library's board decided on March 20 to group books by subject and subcategory rather than alphabetical order by an author’s name. The new categorization method will be implemented on a trial basis, with a few subjects to start, this summer. If patrons like the new system, explained board president Jared Weber, it will expand to the rest of the library. The board will vote next month on the request to revise library policy to require additional input on acquisitions.
More than 300 residents of Orange City, IA, have signed a petition urging the Orange City Public Library (OCPL) to label and separate books containing LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) content and themes. The petition, originally posted by a former OCPL board member and later taken up by a local conservative group, calls for a rating service to be provided for all online materials, and for the library to halt any further acquisitions of such material until public input can be solicited. Objections to the library’s collection of LGBTQ material were first raised at a board meeting in October 2017, director Amanda Vazquez told LJ. A community member attending the meeting expressed concern over the library’s collection “supporting or normalizing homosexual and transgender individuals,” said Vazquez, and the library “spending city dollars [on] what they believed to be morally questionable and promoting things that the community as a whole does not agree with." Orange City had held its first LGBTQ Pride festival on the weekend of October 21–22. A Statement of Concern—a form that enables patrons to bring objections to the attention of library administration—was made in November 2017 but was not addressed at the December board meeting, as too many members would be absent and they wished to have more in attendance. The complaint was then withdrawn before the January meeting and removed from the agenda. Vazquez declined to name the individual filing the statement of concern or the materials in question. Of the 168 print, audiovisual, and online resources identified as featuring LGBTQ content as of December 2017—out of the library’s physical collection of more than 63,000 items—only some are new, noted Vazquez; the library has held other materials in question for years.

SOLICITING SIGNATURES

Terry Chi, an assistant professor of psychology at Orange City’s Northwestern College who served on the OCPL board before his resignation in December 2017, launched a petition titled “Preserving the Community Values of Our Public Library” on February 8. It stated, in part, that “The recent ascendancy of non-biblical activities such as Room for All [an LGBTQ support nonprofit founded in 2005 by the Reformed Church of America], the OC Pride event, and the library acquisitions are signs that our Christian values are slowly being eroded from within.” Chi told the Sioux City Journal that he had found some of the library’s LGBTQ literature disturbing, including a graphic novel that showed female genitalia and the YA novel Two Boys Kissing (Knopf Young Readers), by David Levithan. The petition also claimed that the materials in question were acquired “without proper OCPL Board oversight or community feedback. While it was a legal request, we believe it is something very contrary to the attitudes and values of an overwhelming majority of Orange City/Alton residents.” Orange City is the county seat of Sioux County, one of Iowa’s most conservative counties; 81.3 percent of Sioux County residents voted Republican in the 2016 election. (The only Democratic presidential nominee to ever carry the county was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936.) Chi called on OCPL staff, board members, and Orange City Council members to approve the labeling and separate shelving of those materials “that deal primarily LGBTQ issues [sic].” The petition also requested that the library provide access to a book rating service such as Compass Book Ratings, a privately run site formerly known as SqueakyCleanReads.com, on each computer terminal and online interface, and that it halt any new acquisitions of such content “before a public discussion can be held about the acquisition so valuable feedback can be given by important stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and faith communities.” If 1,000 signatures could be collected, Chi stated on the petition site, the recommendations outlined would be shared with the OCPL board and city council members. The petition ultimately gathered 285 signatures online, and 64 more physical copies were mailed. Progressive Reformation Iowa (PRI), a watchdog organization formed “to expose theological error in area Christian institutions and Churches” in Sioux County, endorsed Chi’s petition on its website. If Chi’s petition passed and was taken to the library board, PRI added in a February 16 post, it would call on city council to require the “activist library director” to resign. PRI has also taken took the seven-person library board to task because the Reformed Church—which, it says, “produces liberal activists in Orange City”—is over-represented among the trustees, “three or four members.” Trustees are appointed by city council, with recommendations made to the mayor by board members and the library director. Some community members also took to local media to speak out against “local activists,” such as Orange City resident Kurt Korver, who penned a letter to the editor of the N’West Iowa Review, noting that when he made a sizable donation to OCPL in 2003 he had “asked if there’d be bad or perverted books at this library. I was assured ‘that will never happen in Orange City.’” Over the February 17–18 weekend the political organization Sioux County Conservatives (SCC) distributed a flier door-to-door to every household in Orange City, reproducing and providing a URL for the petition, and calling on residents to attend the February 20 board meeting. The flier—headlined “Homosexual/Transgender promoting materials in Orange City Library! Some aimed at Pre–K kids using YOUR tax dollars!”—also quoted Bible verses denouncing homosexuality and statistics that, taken out of their original context, portrayed “non-heterosexual” people as more inclined to experience alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, cancer, and suicidal impulses. A line at the bottom of each page stated, “Find more information about Orange City LGBTQ activism at reformationiowa.com.” On February 17, Chi posted a disavowal of the flier on the petition website. “Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that people associated with…SCC have placed a very aggressive and antagonistic flyer at our community members' doorsteps. Other than my petition, NOTHING on the second side of the flyer was shown to me prior to it being distributed and I was not consulted on the content of the other side. I disavow 100% of what the second side of the flyer discussed.” Chi added, “I will not be associated with this rogue behavior from Sioux County Conservatives on this matter today. Therefore, this petition is closed so no one will be influenced by these inflammatory rhetoric [sic] and sign the petition”—a closure which might have happened soon in any case, since he had originally stated, when the petition first posted, that he only planned to keep it online for one month. (Chi declined to comment for this article.) SCC board member Jacob Hall admitted to the Daily Beast that the organization had indeed included the petition on its flier without Chi’s authorization. "Some of these books [at OCPL] are targeting Pre–K," Hall told the news site. “We don't have books about drug use or how to eat a Tide pod or anything else that would be harmful to children."

CONFRONTING THE BOARD

Nearly 20 people, representing both sides of the issue, spoke at the February 20 OCPL board of trustees meeting attended by more than 100 community members. Rev. Sacha Walicord of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church stated, “As a congregation, I would have to say we are shocked that tax money is being used to push this agenda even further,” adding, “As pastors, we have been silent for far too long…. This ends now." "We're not asking for banning because I know that would just sink our ship," Chi said, according to the Sioux City Journal. "We're asking for transparency in the process and some public conversation before new materials are acquired." Former OCPL director Sue Kroesche defended the library’s role as a place of diverse ideas. And Orange City resident Mike Goll, who attended with his husband, said, “There are gay kids, there are trans kids in this town, and seeing their faces and seeing their lives mirrored in some of the books here means everything, and you are preventing therapy bills in the long run, I promise you.” Two separate book challenges, to the children’s book Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Groundwood Bks.), by author Christine Baldacchino and illustrator‎ Isabelle Malenfant, and one other title, were not addressed at the meeting. They will be brought up at the board’s March 20 meeting. The board took no action at the February meeting, but stated it would review public input with the library’s policy committee and compare its collection development policy and Statement of Concern forms to those of other libraries serving similar population sizes across the state. "Both the library and the board are very open to hearing from the community," Vazquez told LJ. OCPL’s current policy states, “The library is dedicated to providing service to persons of all nationalities, age, sex, religious persuasion, or disability,” and notes, “The library recognizes that any given item may offend any one person, but because the library follows accepted principles of intellectual freedom, it will not remove specific titles solely because individuals or groups may find them objectionable. The library subscribes to the principles embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read and Freedom to View statements adopted by the American Library Association.” Library officials have also been working with the Iowa Library Association (ILA) and ILA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. ILA Vice President Dan Chibnall told ABC affiliate KSFY, "The Iowa Library Association believes that libraries serve the entire community and do not advocate one point of view over another…. We believe in building bridges to information and not in erecting barriers around information." The American Library Association (ALA) and ILA issued a joint statement to the board on February 20 as well. It stated, in part, “We extend our full support to the director and librarians of the Orange City Public Library, who work to select a diverse range of materials for the collection without shying away from potentially controversial subjects.” “Even if some community members don't approve of other people's backgrounds or life, those people are community members and taxpayers, too,” Jamie LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), told LJ. “It isn't illegal to be gay in Iowa. LGBT folks have the right to access library materials, too, and to enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment.” LaRue commended the ILA and the OCPL staff and board for engaging “respectfully and honestly with the issues.” On February 23 the OIF blog collected a series of Twitter posts in support of the library titled “I Support the Freedom to Read and Iowa Libraries!” The library has received messages from across the country, said Vazquez. "For the most part…very much in favor of retaining materials, not segregating materials, and encouraging us to fight for intellectual freedom for our community." Comments from library users, she noted, "generally have been very positive and supportive of the library and the library's mission, even when there may be some issues that we might disagree on." Added Vazquez, "I have a very good library board…. [They] are taking this whole situation very seriously and are doing a lot of work to educate themselves in regard to what public libraries are really about, what our policies should be. They're doing a lot more work than I think they signed up for." As for the library, she said, "We have been facing things as they come but we are also trying to...keep things as business-as-usual as possible."

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