At the September 12th meeting, the Board listened to approximately 24 patrons who insisted “I don’t
believe in banning books” and then went on to say “I just want them removed from the children’s
section.” However, in the eyes of the law, “removing” and “banning” are the same thing.
Throughout our country, there are also efforts to “remove” Bibles and other religious books from public
school libraries, effectively denying those children access to those materials. There may come a time in
the future when a significant number of patrons will insist that these books have no place in our own
library system. At the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, the same First Amendment
protection that applies to LGBTQ materials will also apply to books advancing religious speech, even if
some patrons find that speech offensive.
Some have said the public library is no longer a “safe” place for children. They have expressed concern
that the library is engaging in “indoctrination” by having books about children with two daddies or
mommies as well as stories about children who are transgender. By “indoctrination” they may mean
that the library displays materials espousing views that are not in keeping with values of individual
parents. Parents who want their children to avoid LGBTQ materials entirely are finding it challenging to
navigate the library in the same ways as they have in the past. They have expressed frustration that their
children may encounter one of these books, making those children aware of the existence of LGBTQ
people or that the books may unduly influence their children to view LGBTQ people as “normal.”
However, while one family may be appalled to see these books, there are other parents who are thrilled
the library is offering this content for their children. Though they typically do not attend the Board
meetings, at various times, other patrons have also objected to content that has nothing to do with
Pride Month: Harry Potter (it promotes witchcraft), Juneteenth (it’s divisive), Halloween (it’s pagan),
evolution, astrology, diet culture, etc.
It is not the role of the public library to adjudicate morality for any of its patrons or their children. That
said, the Board does take seriously patrons’ concerns that the collection of books in the children’s
section is imbalanced. While the overwhelming majority of the books in the children’s section feature
traditional families, there are in fact more “pro” LGBTQ children’s books than there are books offering a
conservative Christian perspective on gender identity. The Board is working towards implementing the
best policy to address these concerns, but the final response cannot be haphazard or purely reactionary.
We want to be extremely thoughtful because whatever we do will set a precedent for how the library
addresses claims of imbalance or bias in the future.
Additionally, some patrons were upset that a local political group has donated additional LGBTQ
children’s books to the library. It has never been the practice to solicit any individuals or groups outside
of the library to donate books. However, many choose to do so, entirely of their own accord. Some
books have labels indicating the name of the donor or some indication that the books are given in
memory of a loved one. The library has never restricted the labeling of donations. It should be noted
that library space is finite so, if there were to be a massive donation of books, it is possible that all of the
books will not immediately make it to the shelves of the collection, especially if every book is about one
particular topic that is already well represented in the library.
We are deeply grateful to members of the community who have come forward to share their concerns.
We are also appreciative that, for the most part, those individuals have conducted themselves with
decorum. Some people have expressed frustration that the Board does not respond to public
comments. The Board meeting policy states “In order to accomplish all business on the agenda and be
respectful of everyone’s time, trustees will not be able to engage in dialogue with individual members of
the audience and no immediate action will be taken on any public comment issue.” In keeping with this
policy, the Board does not engage in “back-and-forth” communication with the public at meetings. Still,
we value public input and it does help to inform our decision-making. While this statement is printed
on the sheet community members sign in order to speak at the meetings, a larger version will be
displayed to make everyone aware of this policy.
There is a patron who regularly attends meetings and asks the Board what is the legacy that we want to
leave to the library. It is my hope that the legacy of this Board will be that we consistently and faithfully
upheld the First Amendment, even when it was unpopular to do so. The legacy of this Board will be that
we tried to ensure that no group’s books would be “removed” from our public library because, to do so,
would be anathema to the principles of free speech we all value so dearly.
Lisa D. Foster, President
Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County