GROUP WORKS TO REMOVE LIBRARY BOOK by Aubrey Turner (an article from the Irving Rambler)

Irving—The vision of the Irving library system is to “be a center of the community, improving the quality of life for Irving residents.” However, some residents are dismayed by a group of books in the library that feature sexual content and are shelved in the Young Adult selection of the library.

Viki Norman picked up the book ‘Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)’ from the South Library in 2019.

“I saw it on the display and the cover did not look suitable for the teen section,” Norman said. “I checked it out to read it and see if the book was appropriate for children.

“I was shocked by what was in the book. The very first scene of the book depicts a group sex act, and it kept going from there. In total, there were 150 pages in this short book where sex acts were depicted. Additionally, there were instances like sex between a teacher and a student in the book, as well as anal sex.”

Norman sent in an appeal for review to the library staff.

“My concern is this book goes against the state laws prohibiting sexually explicit materials for children,” Norman said. “Additionally, state law requires children be taught abstinence only sex education in public schools.

“I am so concerned the library is allowing a book like this to remain in the library. When children are exposed to sexual material, it is risky to the children, as then they can be groomed for sexual abuse and sex-trafficking.

“My husband started to read a portion of this book at a City Council meeting and was stopped, with the Mayor saying the words were too sexual and not appropriate for the meeting. If it is too sexual for a group of adults at a City Council meeting, it is too sexual for children and teenagers at the library.”

Assistant city manager James Childers is responsible for Irving Library System’s operations and spoke to the City Council about the complaints aboutthe book and library staff.

“While we first heard from Ms. Norman by email in 2019, we did not receive a formal request for review until the summer of 2020,” Childers said. “At that time, we told her we had worked with the city lawyer and had revamped the process. We asked her to submit a request for review, and we would address her concerns and determine if the book should be removed from the collection.

“I want to be clear, we do not serve in place of the parent. We do not monitor what teens and children check out, that is the parent’s responsibility. Our job is to provide materials that meet the interests of our diverse community. There is so much diversity here, and inevitably there will be materials in our library someone finds problematic. That is the inherent component of a public library system.”

The library staff responded to complaints by Norman and others claiming the teen section of the library has a disproportionate amount of LGBTQ+ books. 

“I had the staff go through the section and categorize the books to the best of our ability,” Childers said. “The percentage of books that have LGBTQ+ in the teen section is about 3 percent, and if you bring in the adult section and put those numbers together, it is about 0.5percent. To be fair to those complaining, nobody is saying all of these books have an overtly sexualized theme, but this was the way we could get numbers for books that address these issues.

“We as a library system are not going to restrict what someone can read. We want to provide a variety of books that have different themes to meet the needs of the community. We have twelve librarians who are experts in their field, each have a different area of responsibility, and we use reviews to help us find new books. We have so many books, and there is no way we can read all the books cover to cover. Additionally, our budget is limited for our Young Adult selection, so we have to choose books that go along with popular interest, genre, previous circulation of the author, etc. Because the size of the collection is so small, we will systematically remove books if they are not checked out.”
As a result of the conversations surrounding this book, the library put together a parent guide, both online and in the libraries to help guide parents as their children check out books. 

“This is one of the good things that came from this discussion,” Childers said. “A lot of times, I do not think parents realize that our Young Adult section is intended for 9th through 12th grade. Often the books in these sections are coming of age stories with romance and sexual stories as part of these stories. Additionally, parents can set up their card system to give them the ability to see what books are being checked out by their children. This will empower our patrons on how to use this system.”

“Ideally, I would like the library to remove this book and remove others that are sexually explicit in the library system,” Norman said. “But if the books are going to remain in the system, I think they should all be moved to the adult, non-fiction area under ‘Sex Education.’ That way parents can choose to check out these materials if they would like for their children to have access to these materials. I want the library staff to be more mindful about the books that are purchased. This is our taxpayer money, and it should be used to purchase quality books.”