ASHLAND — It’s not often the topics of child pornography, nudity and sexual intercourse come up during an Ashland Public Library’s board meeting.
But the subjects came up several times during Thursday’s meeting, where an overflow crowd of people gathered, most of them present to let the board know about their disapproval of certain books in circulation.
Not everyone could fit into the library’s small public meeting room. Most of them stood in the hallway, and one pastor in attendance estimated the crowd size at 300.
It’s the fourth meeting at which concerned residents have shared their thoughts on the issue since the beginning of the year.
The board’s position on the matter became clear in June when a handful of residents called on members to remove five books they considered to be pornographic in nature.
The five books in question remained on the shelves. Sandra Tunnell, the library board’s president, said removing the books from the library is censorship.
Since then, some concerned parents and pastors of the Ashland County Ministerial Association have shifted their message from removal of the books to relocating the books to different sections in the library.
For context, the five books — listed below — reached the library’s new arrival shelves at the start of the year. That’s when the discussion began. Part of the reasoning for concerned residents is where the new arrivals are located, which is near the juvenile section:
• “Puberty is Gross but Also Really Awesome” by Gina Loveless
• “Own Your Period” by Chella Quint
• “Making a Baby” by Rachel Greener
• “Wonderful Women of the World” by Laurie Hasle Anderson (First cataloged as a juvenile book in Ashland Public Library, it was later moved to the library’s adult nonfiction section, according to Heather Miller, the library’s director.)
• “This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of her, him, them, and us” edited by Katherine Locke and Nicolle Melleby (According to Ashland Public Library officials, the library does not own a physical copy of this book.)
Parents have said the presence of the books creates an unsafe environment for children because some of them contain “disturbing” images of male and female genitalia and sex acts.
The books are no longer “new,” and have been moved to their permanent spots in the library’s juvenile nonfiction stacks, which is near the young adult fiction books. Physically, the stacks are located in the middle of the library’s north side.
Other books in the section include content meant to educate children on bodily functions, the library noted.
Several residents spoke Thursday against the board’s stance.
Many gathered 15 minutes before the meeting’s 4:30 p.m. start in a parking lot next to the library to pray and organize, said the Rev. John Bouquet of Bethel Baptist Church.
One of them was Sylvia Keller, who blew up images from a book entitled “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robbie Harris to present to board members. Specifically, she spoke about the book’s fourth edition.
First published in 1994, the 89-page book is meant to teach children 10 and older about sexual health, emotional health and relationships, and contains sections on puberty, masturbation, pregnancy and sexual orientation.
It was the fifth most-challenged book in 2014, when the latest edition was published, according to the American Library Association. It was among the top 10 most-challenged books in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The book, although in circulation at the Ashland Public Library, is not located in the same section as the five others in question, according to library director Heather Miller. Instead, it’s located in the adult’s nonfiction section.
Nevertheless, Keller was passionate in her concern of its presence in the library. She held the blown-up images so the board members could see them clearly.
“There is on page 30, a picture of a naked child, genitals showing — so here we have child pornography. We have a teen with his genitals showing, and a man,” she said, referencing the enlarged images.
“On page nine, a man and a woman, in bed, having sex,” she continued, emphasizing the images are in a book for ages 10 and up.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law defines child pornography as “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor.”
Pastor Dave McNeely of New Life Community Church, and acting president of the Ashland County Ministerial Association, characterized the board’s decision to keep books seen as pornographic as “disturbing.”
“Some of these books may be interpreted as grooming children for transgenderism and pedophilia,” McNeely said. “A child’s mind is not prepared at these young ages to process in a healthy way such graphic content.”
A total of three people expressed their concerns to the board. When they finished, Tunnell thanked everyone for coming and reminded them of a form recently created to allow people to reconsider the library’s consideration for a particular item in circulation.
The form is available on this story’s sidebar and is entitled “Request for Reconsideration.”
“I would say that the publishers’ definition of the books, and the majority of people’s definitions of the books, is that they are health books. They are informing children and parents and can be helpful,” Tunnell said.
With that, Tunnell excused the mass of people gathered and moved on to other business items on the board’s agenda, including updates on capital projects, circulation numbers and the consideration of bonuses for library employees.
The entire meeting was streamed live on Ashland Source’s Facebook page:
In an interview during the meeting, as people filed out of the room, Tunnell told reporters her stance has not changed.
“We already said that we don’t believe in censorship and support the public’s right to this library. So that’s where we’re still standing,” she said.
Javier Garcia, an Ashland resident and parent of two children under the age of 10, was one of a handful of people present Thursday who agreed with the board’s stance on the books.
“I think that there’s a lot of misinformation about where the book is located, what the book is like and I think there’s a lot of biased opinion going into a health book for older children,” Garcia said about “It’s Perfectly Normal.”
Garcia said keeping books like “It’s Perfectly Normal” and “Making a Baby” in circulation is part of having a full and healthy sex education for children.
Diane Nelson, of Ashland, said all the books should be removed.
“We have very Christian, protect-our-families community standards,” she said in a post-meeting interview. “And the library board — their standards are different from ours.”
She acknowledged that some residents present Thursday think the books should only be relocated to a different section of the library.
“Some people feel that way, personally I don’t,” she said. “Some say, ‘Let’s take them out.’ That would be me. I don’t even want them in the library, it’s trash.”
Pamela Mowry, an Ashland resident who also serves on the Ashland City Schools board of education, said she was sad by the board’s inaction.
“The library board has now forced (the board of education) to become much more involved in their process. And we will,” Mowry said.
State law says school district libraries are controlled and managed by a library board of trustees, who are appointed to their positions by the district’s board of education. There are seven library board members who each serve seven-year terms. They are not paid for their positions.
The library board holds meetings on the second Thursday of each month. The next is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 11.