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Residents object to LGBTQ literature at Macon library

Several speakers referenced the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” as an example of LGBTQ literature. File photo Several speakers referenced the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” as an example of LGBTQ literature. File photo

A group of Macon County residents and library patrons attended a Feb. 7 library board meeting to air a plethora of concerns. Chief among them were that the library is promoting a sexual agenda to minors and the library’s affiliation with the American Library Association and the Fontana Regional Library System.

“We have been courteous and respectful in voicing our concerns to the library board and administrative staff over here,” said Jim Gaston. “They are not listening to us interjecting our community’s concerns.”

The group of concerned citizens have been frustrated that the Board of Trustees of the Fontana Regional Library system has not addressed their concerns in the past. These concerns seem to center primarily on LGBTQ youth literature available in the youth section of the library, but there are also residents concerned with any affiliation or promotion by the library of what those residents consider “political” issues. This largely boils down to time sensitive displays in the library for things like Black History Month, Pride Month, Banned Books Week and other federally recognized months and weeks that serve to promote and celebrate historically marginalized people. 

“Very simply put, parents and taxpayers want neutrality at a public place. If you try to spin this dialogue as parents being intolerant or wanting to ban books or shut down libraries or restrict access, you’re going to be lying through your teeth and not have any credibility,” Gaston said to media outlets present at the Feb. 7 meeting. 

At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Fontana Regional Library Board of Trustees approved a Collection Development Policy that, according to Jackson County Librarian Tracy Fitzmaurice, has been reviewed by an attorney and is very similar to public library collection development policies all over the nation. 

The goal of the collections policy is to “acquire, organize, make accessible and actively promote materials that support the education, information and recreational needs of the community.” The policy provides for the support of intellectual freedom and aims to provide access to information for the community. Ultimately, responsibility for materials selection rests with the Regional Director and the county librarians who operate within the framework of policies determined by the Fontana Regional Library Board of Trustees. 

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As Gaston stated during his comment, most of the citizens speaking during the library meeting were not in favor of banning books or removing them from the library. However, almost all of them advocated for sequestering books containing LGBTQ content or themes in one way or another. Some residents suggested putting some type of sticker or label on all these books; others likened them to pornographic material and suggested they be in a restricted area separate from the rest of the library collection. 

One mother asked that “the Fontana board put LGBTQ genres stickers on books to help facilitate access to them for those who seek them and to assist all parents in making informed decisions.”

Another man read a letter from a 13-year-old library patron that advocated for a labeling system. 

“I noted that many of the books I pick up have something to do with LGBTQ and while I’m not offended by this, it is my choice to read,” the letter read. “My request is that you label these books so that the people searching for them will find them and the people avoiding them can do so without hardship. I appreciate the fact that you label romance novels so that when I don’t want to read a romance novel, I avoid the label.”

The collections policy approved by the Fontana Library Board in January states “no collection materials, book club selections, storytime selections, or library displays will be labeled, restricted, sequestered, or altered because of any controversy about the author, subject matter or intended or potential audience.”

The library does use viewpoint-neutral, genre labeling for mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, inspirational fiction and paperback romance. Prejudicial labeling can be used for attempts to prejudice, discourage or encourage users and also restrict access to library resources and is generally avoided in public libraries. These types of labels are avoided because using such labels assumes that libraries have the institutional wisdom to determine what is appropriate or inappropriate for its users to access. 

Fitzmaurice gave one example; if a person wanted to read a book about LGBTQ relations, but was afraid of the consequences, an obvious labeling may discourage that person from finding the information they need. 

The Library Bill of Rights states that libraries do not advocate the ideas found in their collections or in resources accessible through the library. The presence of books and other resources in a library does not indicate endorsement of their contents by the library. 

Residents speaking during public comment cited age inappropriate and sexually explicit content as the reasoning for labeling materials, removing them from youth sections, or sequestering them completely. County Commissioner Danny Antoine, one of two commissioners serving as liaison to the library board, took to the podium during public comment with many of the same concerns as the rest of the public. He specifically called attention to one book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe. 

“There are books that we have in our library system that are just absolutely unacceptable and beyond reprehensible to even speak of what’s inside of these books,” said Antoine. “This is pornographic material. A child cannot walk into an adult X-rated store and just go get whatever they want. However, the library seems to be one place in America where any child can check out these books without parental consent.”

Antoine read from statutes regarding third-degree sexual exploitation of minors. Because the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” involves sex, Antoine seemed to allege the material rose to the level of the statute he cited. 

“A person commits the offense of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor if, knowing the character and content of the material, he possesses material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity,” said Antoine. 

Children over eight years of age can check out books from the library, only if they have their own library card. To obtain a library card, parents must present and sign for their child. If parents do not want children to check out books on their own, they can use their personal library card to check out books for their children. Children 8 years old and younger must have a parent or guardian present to be at the library and to check out books. 

Several members of the public also advocated for the separation of Macon County Library from the Fontana Regional Library System as well as the American Library Association. 

“The library’s duty is to remain neutral and not promote the radical agenda that is coming from the American Library Association known as the ALA,” said one resident. “The library board works for the county taxpayers, not the ALA.”

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, the mission of which is to “provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance and ensure access to information for all.”  

While the ALA has opportunities for personal membership, organizational membership and corporate membership, the library board pointed out to everyone present that the Macon County Library is not a member of the American Library Association. 

Several people speaking during the meeting also pleaded with the Macon County Library to separate from the Fontana Regional Library System. Most of these arguments hinged on the fact that the Fontana Regional Library Board has, in their view, not been receptive to requests from the community. 

The Fontana Regional Library system provides library service to the public of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. 

According to its collections policy, the Fontana Regional library strives to have a balanced collection to represent multiple points of view. This includes having all sides of controversial issues as far as availability of materials, space and budget allow. 

The policy states that “the race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, disability, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or political views of an author or creator; offensive language; depictions or descriptions of violence or sexually explicit activity; controversial content of an item; or endorsement or disapproval by an individual or group in the community does not cause an item automatically to be included or excluded from Fontana Regional Library’s collection.”

It goes on to say that “all public libraries contain materials that some patrons may find objectionable. Libraries may omit from the collection materials that some patrons feel are important. In either case, Fontana Regional Library has procedures that patrons may use in requesting the reconsideration of materials.”

To request reconsideration of certain materials, patrons may submit a Request for Reconsideration form. The form asks the person submitting the request for basic biographical information, whether they have examined the entire resource, what concerns the submitter has about the resource, whether there are other resources the submitter would suggest to provide additional information on the topic, and what they recommend the library do with the resource. 

The Request for Reconsideration Form and all library policies can be found at

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