Fremont County Libraries – Fact and Fiction

    Content sponsored by Fremont County Libraries

    by Anita Marple, Library Director April 9, 2024

    Libraries are meant to be one place in the community that welcomes everyone without prejudice and without pushing any political bias. The library collection ideally offers a balance of perspectives on a variety of topics and reflects the diverse needs of the people whom it serves. 

    The Fremont County Library System has become a battleground for the ideological differences that are driving the deep political and social divisions in our society. Depending on your perspective, the library is either the villain or the hero of this story. Considering the proliferation of misinformation and biased narrative, I am writing to provide context and facts for the community on two contentious topics.

    False Narrative of Pornography in the Library

    The first is the accusation of “pornography in the library.” This began July 31, 2023, when a teen patron at the Lander Library reported seeing an adult viewing pornography on a public computer. Some individuals contend that I did not responding quickly or adequately to this incident. Here are the facts: 1) library staff and I took the teen’s report seriously, 2) library staff monitored the adult in question immediately following the teen’s report but could not confirm that pornography had been viewed, 3) when I was told of the reported incident, I informed the adult that library staff had received a complaint that inappropriate material had been viewed, 4) I spoke to the teen’s parent, 5) within one day of the reported incident, library staff and I created a specific action plan of several items which included relocating two public computers and meeting with the county IT supervisor to discuss possible internet filtering options. 

    The library board became aware of the incident at the August 2, 2023, board meeting and began discussing this issue in earnest at the August 28, 2023, special board meeting. Changing a policy must be based on sound reasoning and objective principles. The process of revising the Internet Use Policy to include filtering for pornography has been a thoughtful process and is currently in the 45-day public comment period that is required by law.

    Despite the rhetoric of a small group of citizens, there is no pornography problem at the Fremont County Libraries. It has always been the policy and procedure of our library system not to allow the viewing of pornography in our libraries. When rare incidents have occurred of someone viewing inappropriate websites, the library staff interceded immediately and enforced the policy. To suggest that library staff condone viewing pornography at the library is wrong and slanderous.

    Book Challenges

    The second topic of contention is the Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials for the books Smoke and Tricks, both by author Ellen Hopkins. The requests for reconsideration were submitted by the same local resident in December 2023. Even though this person did not read either book, I conducted a complete review process for both books according to the FCLS Challenged Materials Policy. The objection to Smoke was that it had “child pornography and grooming.” My determination to keep the book in the library collection and in the Young Adult section was based on objective criteria. While the book addresses serious topics, the objections were completely unfounded.

    The book Tricks has been a controversial topic. The author’s goal in writing this book is to prevent teens from getting manipulated and trapped into the tragic life of prostitution and sex trafficking. The story lines of the five teen characters are based on real people and tell their stories with an honesty that is shocking in places. However, the point of including details of sexual encounters is not to encourage imitation. Rather, the author portrays what the characters are thinking, why they make certain choices, what happens with those choices, and the unanticipated outcomes of those choices. This is a heartbreaking book that tackles a topic no one wishes were real—sex trafficking and teen prostitution. This is a problem throughout our county and state. Some of our most vulnerable young people have already experienced sexual abuse at a young age. For those already carrying the weight of shame and guilt that they should never have been burdened with, this book might just provide them with hope and the affirmation that they are not alone.

    An important fact about these two book challenges is that they were not submitted because a young person discovered them while browsing the library shelves looking for books. These two novels are on a list that the groups Moms for Liberty and MassResistance want to ban. Tricks has been in the FCLS collection for 15 years. Not once in these 15 years was a challenge submitted on this book by a parent or teen who discovered it on the library shelf. 

    Right and Responsibility of Parents

    While I affirm that Tricks belongs in the Young Adult collection in our libraries, I also affirm that every book is not for every reader. Our library system has always respected and expected the right and responsibility of parents and guardians to be in charge of what their own children are checking out from the library. The FCLS policy requires parents or guardians to sign an acknowledgment of this responsibility when acquiring a library card for their child. The diversity of values in our community reinforces this responsibility of parents and guardians to teach their own children their family’s values. 

    The Fremont County Library System supports the constitutional rights of everyone in the county. Your freedom of speech and equal protection under the law are core to your libraries.

    This post is sponsored by a generous grant from the Fremont County Library Foundation.

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