INDIAN SPRINGS — Activists gathered at the North Shelby County Library on Thursday night to praise the library board members for keeping an LGBTQ display in the children's section in June after backlash from residents who felt it was inappropriate for kids.
Last summer, the North Shelby Library Board (NSLB) voted to keep its "pride" display in its children's area as a large crowd gathered to speak for and against the display at its meeting. Multiple state lawmakers were in attendance opposing the display, including State Rep. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover).
The display was in the room designated for the library's children's books and behind the help desk. It featured several supposed children's books about gay and transgender people, including "Calvin," which is about a female child who begins to identify as a male.
Kay Kelley, the president of the NSLB at the time, said the display did not violate library policy and that to remove the display, the library would have to change its policy around censorship.
Nevertheless, those against the display argued that the library did not have to ban or remove the books altogether. Instead, it could simply move the books from the children's section, just as other books aren't included in the children's section.
During the meeting, NSLB member Lucy Edwards resigned after her failed motion to change the library's policy so that the library could consider whether certain content for children was age-appropriate.
Controversy at the NSLB did not end there, however.
On July 17, the NSLB placed a restriction on public comments, limiting speakers to two minutes at regular board meetings. Only residents who have paid library district assessments in full can speak, but other residents may leave written comments. Speakers must also notify the Library Services director four days in advance.
That same day, North Shelby County Library director Kate Etheredge released a statement claiming the library has had a pride display for 13 years.
"As a professional librarian, I can attest that the display included age-appropriate materials about families of all kinds, love, kindness, being yourself, and LGBTQ+ history," Etheredge wrote. "Many of the books featured were winners or honor books of the American Library Association's Stonewall Award for children."
"The responsibility for the choice of library materials minors can check out rests with their parents or legal guardians," she continued later in the statement. "Because of its suburban location, the North Shelby Library is not accessible to children unless they have adult transportation, and young children visiting the children's area must be accompanied by a responsible caregiver. Picture books are usually read to children and often deal with difficult topics such as death or divorce because they help parents start hard discussions. Library staff are ready to assist patrons who want to find books that are appropriate for their families."
The NSLB elected to fill Edwards' former position with Tim Ryan in July.
In September, the NSLB issued a statement accusing DuBose and others of spreading "misinformation."
The statement said that some individuals opposed to the display suggested there was a consensus among the community that the display should be removed. According to the statement, that was not true.
"Of the more than 8,600 people who visited the library in June, only about 1% expressed an opinion about the display," the statement read. "The library received 76 supportive written comments and 39 negative written comments. Additionally, the number of visitors to the library in June 2023 increased by more than 3,000 from the previous year, and the Summer Reading Program registration and attendance also increased over the previous year."
The statement specifically accused DuBose of claiming the board did not consider requests to remove the display and that the display was "huge."
"Comments by Representative Dubose and others stated that the board would not consider or address requests to remove the display in the Children's Department," it read. "This is false! The Board DID consider the motion made to change library policy. This change would have included the requirement for the Board to review every event (program), display, or exhibit that takes place at the library. The board voted to keep the existing library policies. Representative Dubose described the [North Shelby Library] Children's Department display as 'huge' The display was a set of bookshelves in the Children's Department which were approximately [4 by 6 feet] with an [8.5-by-6 foot] sign that said 'Take Pride in Reading.' She also stated that every book on the shelves contained transgender subject matter, which is also false!"
The board also criticized DuBose for saying in a radio interview that she would be "afraid to ask a librarian to help her child find a book" and would not leave children unattended at the library.
"The [NSLB] agrees with the last portion of her statement because it would be against the [North Shelby Library] Unattended Child policy to let a child 'run loose," the statement read. "Parents and/or legal guardians are always fully responsible for their minor children/charges and are expected to always comply with library policies."
On Thursday, one resident used his time to suggest the NSLB was itself spreading misinformation by suggesting the opponents of the LGBTQ books in the children's section are attempting to ban books.
"There's going to be elections, and you're going to be opposed," he warned them.
1819 News spoke to this resident after to ask him what made him want to get up and speak.
"I live in the Shelby District," he said. "I've been here for twenty years. And when I became aware of some of the books that were in the children's section here, I started checking into it and found out that some of the books here are inappropriate for children, especially young children, and that they should be only checked out by the parents, not the children, and some of them should probably be moved out of the children's section and into the adult section. I'm not asking for anything to be banned."
Many other residents spoke to laud Etheredge during the meeting for refusing to take down the display.
Many accused those opposed to including LGBTQ books in the children's section of attempting to ban books. One speaker compared them to Nazis and defenders of slavery.
"Around the time of the Civil War, white Southerners burned anti-slavery books because they thought abolitionist ideas would lead to slave revolts," the resident said. "And yet, I will mention the most famous book burners of the modern age: the Nazis, who burned books by the thousands. These are people that modern book-banners are aligning themselves with."
Another resident with a transgender child said the LGBTQ books in the children's section make children like hers feel included.
"I really feel like our libraries are being attacked, and it's important for people to stand up for intellectual freedom and for our First Amendment and our librarian here at North Shelby was very brave and wrote a wonderful statement in July, and we need to have her back. We need to support her."
When asked why she thought some residents in her community wanted to move the books out of the children's section, she said she would not "speculate on other people's motivations."
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