Covered books on display at the Lexington Park library have raised the concerns of some parents, who asked the St. Mary's County commissioners Tuesday evening to have some of them removed, while others defended the library's freedom of speech.
As part of the American Library Association-sponsored Banned Books Week held during the last week of September, several books were placed under brown lunch bags at the Lexington Park library's teen section as part of its display. There were similar displays at the libraries in Leonardtown and Charlotte Hall, but those were already taken down to make way for new displays.
The display at the Lexington Park library was already scheduled to come down this week, a library spokesperson said on Thursday.
On the bags over the books was written: “Do Not Read This. Lift to see the banned book, you rebel, you.”
What some parents found under the brown bags greatly disturbed them, namely a book called the “the little black book for girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality.”
Christina Timmons of Hollywood told the county commissioners at their Tuesday evening forum that the banned book display “is malicious intent on the part of the library staff.
“Commissioners, I'm alerting you our library is preying on kids,” she said. “The library selected their victims — children in a poor section of town. The library started grooming kids by introducing a sex ed class taught by a pervert, who promotes kinky sex and pole dancing. Yeah, this is just what kids need,” Timmons said.
A voluntary sexual education class was held at the Lexington Park library on May 21, after much community controversy. It was presented by a local group that uses the library's meeting space. About a dozen young people attended the class, as another group prayed outside of the library. Police were also present to keep the peace.
“The libraries, like the predators, they work to gain the trust of our children,” Timmons said. “Children have been taught to trust librarians like they trust police. However, the library has taken that trust and used it for perversion,” she said.
“They are enticing children to cross comfort lines like having sex with each other, same-sex partners, kinky sex and sex with anyone,” she said. “All of this the library claims is freedom of speech. Well, your freedom of speech ends when you use it to exploit kids."
Timmons continued, “The library is creating a sexually charged atmosphere. Do you really believe that children exposed to that filth will not start acting out what the library staff is pumping into them? Commissioners, don't wait until we have children raped in library restrooms to stop this library agenda.”
Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary's County library system, did not attend the public forum, but said on Wednesday, “We've had no instances of rape in the library bathrooms or anywhere else in the library. We try to make it a safe of a place as we possibly can. It's a very safe place for people to be.”
James Gibbons Walker of Leonardtown said at the public forum, “The First Amendment … guarantees a freedom to read. Libraries serve a valuable function in a free society. Libraries encourage a free exchange of knowledge.”
The underlying issue here with the banned book list “has to do with fear. What is the fear that's being addressed? What are folks afraid of? I believe that the fears expressed … deserve to be heard and deserve to be addressed, but nevertheless, I propose to you that at least some of that fear is a fear of diversity, a fear of the other, a fear of a society which is becoming different than the society in which we grew up.”
Georgia Kijesky of Great Mills said she was concerned about the “sexualization of children in our library.” She too spoke out against the sexual education class held at the library earlier this year.
Regarding the banned books, she said, “the little black book for girlz” was particularly graphic. To the county commissioners she said, “I just want to know what you're going to do about this,” she said.
“Our children are not guinea pigs for sexual experimentation,” Kijesky said. “This is a class of citizens that are being preyed upon.”
Three county commissioners were present for Tuesday's forum — President Randy Guy (R), Mike Hewitt (R) and Todd Morgan (R).
Hewitt and Morgan inspected the book, “the little black book for girlz,” and confirmed it had a St. Mary's County library bar code on it.
Robert Myers of Great Mills asked that the library director be removed “because of poor decisions on his part.”
Jennifer Mountjoy of Hollywood said she saw 34 books as part of the banned book display, nine of which she called sexually explicit.
Jayne Walsh of Leonardtown said the sharing of books and the ideas contained within are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She said the books on display are not banned books — “they are challenge books,” and the ALA has a format for challenge books. Some of the books on the list are “The Color Purple,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“If you object to the content of a book … that a library offers, don't check it out. Screen what your children read if you want,” she said. “The library has an obligation to meet the needs of the whole community, not a select few.”
Jim Hanley of Leonardtown, vice president of the library board of trustees, said the organization does not have “any plans to corrupt the youth of our county.” He said, “I will look into the specific” books that were mentioned at the public forum.
However, “This is not an agenda. This is not something the library specifically attempts to do in terms of corruption of the youth of this county, and I think it's somewhat offensive to make that declaration or claim,” he said.
“Look at all the things the library has accomplished. Be sensitive to sometimes the element of exaggeration and distortion as to what occurs within the library walls. These are competent, capable people running our libraries. To be accused of an agenda that is detrimental to the community I think is very unfair and unreasonable,” he said.
Blackwell said Wednesday that he wished that the concerned parents had brought their issues to the library system first. There is an appeal process for books that people find offensive. But in the case of “the little black book for girlz,” it was highly recommended by doctors and teachers as well as other librarians, he said.
The banned books week “celebrates the right to read. It's more accurately called a challenged books week,” he said.
The books that were part of the display came out of the library system's collection and once the last display at the Lexington Park library comes down, the books "will continue to be in the collection," Laura Boonchaisri, the publicity, outreach and programming coordinator for the library system, said Thursday. "No books were purchased for this" display, she said. "They were just pulled from the current collection that we have."
The people who spoke in opposition to some of the books on display “are clearly passionate,” Blackwell said. “The library should reflect the entirety of a community. The library is open to everyone and has to be a resource for everyone,” he said.
The county commissioners have no direct oversight over the local library system, but Morgan said Wednesday, “I listened to the whole discussion on First Amendment rights. However, there comes a point when good judgment and common sense need to prevail in these discussions. It didn't, to me, exhibit good common sense and judgment” with some of the books that were part of the display.