Jessamine library board hears public comment about book-checkout policy

awilson1@herald-leader.comNovember 19, 2009 

  • The petition

    A petition was presented to the Jessamine County Public Library board to overturn its collection policy. The petition specifically asked for the removal of four works on the grounds that they "offended me in that they depict sexual acts and/or describe such acts in a way that in my opinion are contrary to the Jessamine County public opinion" of what should be in a public, taxpayer-supported collection. The petition concluded the works constituted a public safety issue in that they encourage sexual predators.

    The works:

    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore, graphic novel

    Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk, adult fiction

    Choke (based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk), DVD

    Ron White: You Can't Fix Stupid, DVD

    Amy Wilson

NICHOLASVILLE — An evangelist yelled at the Jessamine County Public Library Board, then turned his attention to the seated crowd of more than 100: "If this is not pornography, what is?"

He had passed out photocopies of a page out of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier to each of the board's members, and he held a copy aloft as he spoke.

Earl Lee Watts, who said he evangelizes around the state but has no parish, then explained to the rest of the crowd what the picture contained: A naked woman sitting on a naked man's lap being fondled.

Bobbi Stout responded by saying she had spent some time studying the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech and what her preacher daddy who fought in World War II had said about standing up for what you believe.

"It's dangerous to democracy when an interest group imposes its views on another," she said. "Stand up for the Constitution."

It was not business as usual during the public comment interval of the library board's November meeting.

A Clark County librarian cried when Stout spoke. Darryl Diddle, a Wilmore minister, presented a petition signed by 950 asking that three more of the library's works be removed. And DeWayne Brewer, Brookside Baptist's pastor, asking for a little common sense, warned that if the Bible ever went into graphic novel form, the banning committee would have something to really fret about.

To be sure, it was an hour of heartfelt conviction for 23 speakers, who were pretty evenly divided as to why they were supporting or opposing a change in the library's policy about checking out books to minors.

For those under age 18 to get a library card, parents must sign the application. The library considers parents responsible for what children and teens check out; librarians do not have discretion to refuse to loan items.

Controversy about the policy arose in September, when two library employees, Sharon Cook and Beth Boisvert, decided together to disallow an 11-year-old from checking out Black Dossier, a book they considered obscene.

Cook previously kept the book off the shelves by repeatedly checking it out from the graphic novels section of the library because, she said, she felt it was too close to the young adult fiction section. She worried about children finding the book.

The women were both fired for their actions, which included checking library patron information to find out who placed a hold on the book.

Community response was swift, with a division appearing between those who felt Cook and Boisvert were reasonably trying to protect children from obscene materials and those who said libraries are not to act in the place of parents in determining what children should read.

Wednesday's meeting was the first chance for the public to address the issue in front of the board. Each speaker was to get 2 minutes; public comment lasted for an hour.

Board chairwoman Billie Goodwill explained the board's current position, assuring the crowd that "legal standards are the yardsticks" and that the board has not exceeded the Kentucky Revised Statutes. She explained that Black Dossier came with laurels and awards and that "it met our criteria for purchase."

Speakers included area librarians, preachers, a columnist for the Jessamine Journal, parents who wanted the library to act in their stead and parents who didn't.

A few speakers stuck to personal stories. Christine Powell told how she was an early reader, ahead of her class, how she almost quit reading because libraries wouldn't allow her to read above her grade and how that worked to punish her and "limit my growth."

Kristina Sakowich, a mother of eight who homeschools her children, says it was only Wednesday when she brought her children to the library that she thought of her 13-year-old son: "Oh, no, what will he see on the shelves?"

West Jessamine High School sophomore Alexis Kierstead brought a petition signed by 244 students asking that the board guide their reading decisions. She said they all believe that "it takes a village to raise a child." She also confessed to having hidden books from her parents.

No action was taken by the board. When asked by some in attendance when action would be taken, Goodwill said board agendas are posted online. The board may decide to change the current policy or leave it as is.

Cook said later the meeting was "like we were pushing on a rope. We're going to leave it with them. They are a good group. We need to let them do their work. I do believe that sincerely."

Boisvert said she appreciated everybody showing up "and telling us how they feel." She repeated the "everybody" part, then added: "That's how people feel, and that was good they got to say it."

Reach Amy Wilson at (859-231-3305 or at (800) 950-6397, Ext. 3305.

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