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ImagineIF Libraries reviewing gender identity books after complaints filed

| November 19, 2021 7:00 AM

ImagineIF Libraries has received several formal requests to remove two books from its collection because of subject matter that deals with gender identify and sexual content.

One of the books targeted for removal is a graphic novel about gender identity titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Aia Kobabe. The other is "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel.

Interim Library Director Martha Furman has established a review committee to review the removal requests lodged formally as a Citizen Comment on Library Material. "Gender Queer" is currently under review, Furman said, and "Lawn Boy" will be reviewed once the book, which is currently checked out, is returned to the library.

The library Board of Trustees ultimately decides how to handle the requests, and could make a decision at its Jan. 27 meeting.

At the board's Oct. 28 meeting Furman informed board members the library had received a formal challenge to "Gender Queer." Since then several other challenges have been filed for both books, she told the Inter Lake.

Furman posted an explanatory letter to the community on ImagineIF Libraries’ Facebook page Nov. 3, noting the library staff “is aware of a national conversation" involving the two books.

“After a video of a parent at a school board meeting went viral, libraries across the country have received requests to remove the two titles,” Furman said in the letter, noting that both of the books are in ImagineIF’s adult collection.

Furman stressed that the library is “obligated to provide a wide range of views, including those that may be considered unorthodox or unpopular.

“I understand that content contained in many books in our collection can upset and disturb patrons,” Furman said. “Encountering a book that violates one’s own worldview can cause feelings of stress, sadness, surprise and anger. Yet the library needs to provide free access to our current materials so you can make up your own minds.”

Furman further explained the supervisor of the ImagineIF Collection Services department has the system-wide responsibility for overseeing the selection and maintenance of all materials and formats within the collection of the library, with additional professional staff selecting for certain collection areas.

“This responsibility is monitored by the library director and assistant director, and is delegated to these individuals as a result of their education, training, experience, and job classification,” Furman said.

In the community letter, she itemized the number of items in the library collection for various subjects.

For example, there are 626 items with LGBTQ+ titles in the library’s collection, or 0.6 percent of all collections. There are 2,107 items with Christianity title, or 1.5 percent of all collections.

FURMAN SAID if a complaint about a book or other item cannot be resolved informally, the complainant will be asked to fill out and return a written and signed Citizen Comment on Library Materials Form. This form may be obtained from any ImagineIF staff member.

“In the absence of a fully completed form there is no formal complaint and no action will be taken,” Furman noted.

After the library director has received a fully completed written complaint, the director establishes a review committee of four library professionals to investigate the complaint. The committee’s recommendation is then presented to the Library Board of Trustees for a final decision, Furman said.

ImagineIF Libraries dealt with a public complaint in 2019 when, after a review process, the Library Board voted to retain an LGBTQ-friendly children’s book as part of the library’s collection.

A storytime session had featured “Prince & Knight,” a gay-inclusive fairytale in which a prince falls in love with a knight.

After a local teacher wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Inter Lake asserting the topic of gay marriage to be “totally inappropriate for an audience of preschoolers,” the library staff received roughly 70 public comments about the book and subsequent reading.