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Common Sense, or Censorship?

The Goshen News - Staff Photo -
Anne Kelly

On February 21, following my resignation as President of the Friends of the Library for 17 years, I attended my first Goshen Library Board of Directors meeting.  I heard that a book had been banned in Goshen, Gender Queer, by Miai Kobabe. By library policy, no one can take a book from the shelves because some think it inappropriate. The book could only be removed after a process called reconsideration. A complainant must fill out a Material Reconsideration Request form and submit it to the library director.

     During the Selectman’s meeting on 2/20/24, several people spoke during public commentary and overwhelmingly supported due process rule. Ironically, In October of 2022, the Library Board stated they would not ban books. So what happened?

     On 2/21/24 the Library Board met. Attendees filled the room, spilled into the halls and attended on Zoom. Lynette Miller requested the Board review all library programming going forward, another first for Goshen. This was passed by the Board. Board member, Josephine Jones, addressed the book, saying that it had been taken off the shelf outside of Library Board protocol.  It was her understanding that in June of 2023, Tabitha Guarniere, Library Director, was called by Todd Carusillo to meet him in the First Selectman’s office, where Library Board Chairperson, Henrietta Horvay, also called by Mr. Carusillo, was present. They were told by the 1st Selectman that there had been complaints and that Ms. Guarniere had to remove the book. Ms. Horvay stated that when this happened, the book was not in the library. They reconvened in July when the book was returned. She was told it was in the children’s section. In actuality, it was in the young adult section, but very near to the children’s books. Ms. Guarneire, on the job for a few short weeks, did not want to disagree with her employer and made no objection when he asked for the book to be removed.  She did not remember the proper policy at that time.  It should be noted that Ms. Horvay helped write the policy.

    During the meeting’s public commentary section. many residents spoke. Some argued for the book and questioned its current whereabouts. Some, against it, disagreed with its placement in the library. Most supported following proper policy. Board member, Lynnette Miller, said while she was not representing the complaints, she did have a large number of Material Reconsideration Request forms given to her.  She was the only board member who received these written complaints.  She proposed that these complaints be “sealed” to protect the privacy of the complainants.  (Note: as these were presented in a public meeting, they are open to the public to view as per FOI law).  Ms. Guarniere, via Zoom, agreed to review the complaints when she received them.   

      Patrick Reilly, former Board Chair and Library Friends member, presented Ms. Horvay with a new copy of the book. The board agreed it should be back in circulation until the reconsideration process is completed.  It was in the library’s adult section the next day with a placard designating it as a gift of the Friends of the Goshen Library.

     Mr. Carusillo, verified the account of the meetings.  He was responding to direct complaints, unaware of a reconsideration policy, and confirmed that Ms. Guarniere gave the book to Ms. Horvay in July. According to Mr. Carusillo, that was the point where the issue was in the Library Board’s hands.

    As to why the book found its way to the Goshen Library,  former Goshen Library Director, Lynn Barker Steinmeyer, explains: “The book was written for a high school audience and it is appropriate for that age group to have access to it, ...since the author gives insight into struggles of a particular population,” even though like many books, “it does contain some disturbing content.” Insight is important, especially in an age where the suicide rate is climbing in the teen age group, as have rates of hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Years ago when the Childrens’ director at the time suggested adding Gender Queer, Ms. Steinmeyer supported it.

     In a recent zoom meeting, Lindsay Delligan, a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Connecticut Library Association (CLA) pointed out that the decision was appropriate for a library director.  Material in a library collection can be of interest to any member of the community, and should not be censored by groups who oppose that material.  “There is not one book in circulation in…any Connecticut public library which has been found (by legal precedent) to be pornographic.”  According to their Freedom to Read statement, books need to be judged as a whole work.  Since great care and deliberation is taken in choosing books for libraries, taking a book off the shelf or restricting access to it is considered banning. To date, no book has been banned in Connecticut public libraries.

Book banning has been in the news for the last several years.  In the case of Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, the city was sued for violation of the citizens’ first amendment rights, when the book was banned by members of the town government based on a petition of 300 citizens.

Since Amazon rates the book at 18+, the library has put the book in the adult section for now.  Presumably, a teen who is curious could still take out the book.

Ms. Steinmeyer, in her new role as President of the Friends of the Goshen Public Library, says they will continue to support the library in its decisions to create content in the collection of interest to a wide variety of patrons.  “I notice that people who come to the Goshen Library from town and neighboring communities,” note that it is a “safe and welcoming place.  That’s what a library should be.”

     This issue has placed stress on the library staff. One librarian states that it was very upsetting that the book was missing. In speaking with them, it seems that some elected officials have questioned them individually on topics of programming and their hours, which is the responsibility of the library director. Now that procedures are being followed this stress should ease.  If you happen to get a chance, thank your local librarian!

     Questions remain.  Where is the original copy of the book? Why did it take so long for the issue to come out? Why does the board want to review each program the director is considering? Are any more books missing? It is clear that the town is not divided about one thing:  due process in the matter of Gender Queer should be followed.

Note: The Friends of the Goshen Public Library meet on the 3rd Saturday of the month and are open to all residents and Goshen Library supporters.  Open House-Saturday, March 16th, 9:30.