ASHLAND — Whether or not nudity should be allowed in children’s books was debated Thursday among some patrons and board members of the Ashland Public Library.
The five books in question are still in circulation and will remain there, assured Heather Miller, the director of the library, during the regular meeting of the board of directors of the library.
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And the four Ashland County residents who attended the meeting made it clear that they consider the books to be pornographic in nature and that their presence on library shelves creates an unsafe environment for children.
“Censorship is a slippery slope”
Thursday’s discussion was the third to take place on the five new books, said Sandra Hedlund Tunnell, chair of the library’s board of trustees.
Titles include “Own Your Period: A Fact-filled Guide to Period Positivity” by Chella Quint and “Making A Baby” by Rachel Greener.
The books started making waves at the start of the year when they hit the new arrivals shelf in the children’s section. Now six months old, the titles have recently been moved from this display and placed on the shelves with all the other books.
As far as Tunnell can remember, this is the first batch of books to trouble some local residents.
“I appreciate their concerns,” Tunnell said. “I think censorship is a slippery slope. I don’t want to start going down the road where we just start picking books off the shelf willy-nilly because a few people complained out of thousands and thousands and thousands of people who use our library.”
Books with “adult themes”?
The charge to have the books removed is led by two pastors and a group of parents.
First to speak was Laura Brenning, a mother of two who was accompanied by her husband, Jeremy.
“It makes me sad because this is the first year we haven’t been able to do the summer reading program,” Brenning said. “I don’t feel safe letting them roam the children’s section.”
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After evaluating the content of the five new books, she worries about the content of other books that she has not yet screened.
Brenning said a book had “many pictures of genitalia and also deals with masturbation.” Another “shows a couple having sex”, and the others contained nudity, profanity “and other adult themes”.
She said the books were labeled as recommended for children as young as 5.
“Protect their innocence”
The Reverend John Bouquet, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, told library officials he was “beyond shocked to find the following materials in our public library in a children’s section.”
He asked that the books be removed, or at least removed from the children’s section.
“Parents have the right to teach their children about sexuality and gender, not the library or our public schools,” Bouquet said. “Protect their innocence.”
He said the adult section of the library would be the appropriate place to store reference materials that may contain “adult level content”.
“Making Babies is the title, but the images in the book are pornographic and obscene,” Bouquet said. “Showing naked men with children in a shower exposing body parts is just plain wrong and shouldn’t be done for kids ages 5-9.”
“A certain societal impact”
The evaluation of the books by the residents concerned does not accurately describe their content, argues Mike Zickefoose, secretary of the library board.
He reviewed all five titles, initially fearing there was a photo of a naked man – instead he found an educational illustration.
“It’s not a sexual representation of a man,” Zickefoose said. “It’s a reference book. It’s science. These books are about puberty and what people go through.”
Zickefoose urged those affected to read the text around the images and consider the illustrated educational content.
Bouquet argued that most young children wouldn’t read the books, they would flip through them while looking at pictures.
“They’re not drawn to words first, and you know that. They’re drawn to pictures,” he said. “There are definite societal fallouts to this.”
“The first step towards censorship”
Professionals evaluate new documents to make sure they are accurate and inform the public, the chairman of the board explained.
“If parents don’t want their kids to read or touch them, that’s up to them,” Tunnell said.
She said the library’s job is not to protect, but to make information easily accessible to everyone.
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“We have kids in our community who don’t have parents available to talk to them about things like puberty,” Tunnell said.
Of the more than 90,000 books in circulation at the library, she says, she’s not worried that only five might offend someone and the books will stay.
“It’s the first step towards censorship,” Tunnell said. “You talk about freedom and freedom, but I don’t think censorship and freedom can coexist.”
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