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Litchfield County Libraries Respond to Goshen Book Ban

The Goshen News - Staff Photo - Create Article
The graphic novel "Gender Queer" was improperly, temporarily removed from the shelf at the Goshen Public Library/Eric Warner
Eric Warner

In the Summer of 2023, First Selectman Todd Carusillo and Goshen Library Board of Directors Chairperson, Henrietta Horvay overlooked the library's policy and improperly removed copies of Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. The book had been in the library for two years, placed in the young adult section which is only several feet away from the children’s section. The correct procedure is for Goshen residents to submit a “Request for Reconsideration” form and acknowledge that they have actually read the book in its entirety. Those forms are then sent to the Library Director for review. A book cannot be removed until the director has made a decision on the matter. If issues with the book continue for a long period of time, the book may be read, reviewed, and voted on by the Library Board of Directors. No book had ever been removed in Connecticut’s history until this event in Goshen.

     The book was silently removed from the library until news of the removal came to light in February, 2024. Horvay apologized for the improper removal of the book during the February Library Board of Directors meeting, “If I did something wrong, I am human and I’m sorry. But at this stage of the game, I’m willing to go forward.” The board acknowledged that this was a mistake on Horvay’s part and noted that Carusillo’s purview does not include micromanaging the library. They recommended Carsuillo forward any book complaints sent to him to the library in the future. The library has received 44 complaints about the book that Goshen’s Public Library Director, Tabitha Guarnieri, will review.

     Gender Queer is a 2019 autobiographical graphic novel that recounts Kobabe’s life and trials when coming to terms with gender identity from adolescence to adulthood. Kobabe identifies as non-binary and asexual. The book has since received the 2020 Alex Award from the American Library Association (ALA), was a finalist for the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, and is now recognized as a Stonewall Honor Book for its exceptional merit relating to the LGBTQIA+ experiences. Despite its awards, Gender Queer has become a contentious book among school and public libraries in recent years. According to PEN America, Gender Queer became the fifth most banned book In the 2022-2023 school year nationwide with 26 bans. According to the ALA, Gender Queer became the most challenged book in the country in 2022 with 151 challenges. Most of these bans or challenges were for containing LGBTQIA+ content or content that was perceived as sexually explicit. Almost 3,400 book bannings occurred nationwide in the 2022-2023 school year with most appearing in Florida, Missouri, or Texas, according to PEN America. These states issued 300-1,400 book bans each.

     Litchfield County residents and librarians have commented on this event and its historic implications for the state. Many residents who attended the Library Board of Directors meeting were concerned how this book may impact children and how this event might lead to more drastic book removals and bannings.  Several attendees referenced the book burnings of Nazi Germany as a comparison. Librarians are concerned about the lack of policy adherence and the withholding of information to the public. “I think it’s very important for libraries to adhere to and have a very strong collection development policy,” said Torrington Public Library Director Jessica Gueniat. “’s so important to follow your policies” Her great concern was to avoid the scenario where just one person can make a decision to pull a book from the library shelves. Gueniat added that the banning or removal of books limits free and equal access to a wide variety of materials to the public. She hopes this event will be a “good learning experience” for Goshen.

      Winsted’s Beardsley Library Director, Kimmie Killmer, expressed similar sentiments in ensuring library staff follow policies and board decisions. “I would think that all libraries should have a policy in place and just follow those policies based on what each library considers their policy and what their board approves… Every patron has their opinion for their concern about titles…our library, our board, and I would listen and then follow the proper steps to manage it.” Beardsley utilizes reconsideration forms for books of concern as well, but Killmer noted that libraries’ primary function is to provide books and information; it’s up to parents’ judgments to determine what their children should and should not read. When asked on how the Thomaston Public Library would respond to an instance such as this, Library          Director Amy Schumann stated, “The Thomaston Public Library Board has recently reviewed our Collection Development and our Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources policies so I am confident we have a clear and known procedure to follow if we receive any complaints.”

     In terms of parents being concerned about what their children may be reading, Harwinton Public Library Director, Alice Freiler suggested parents hold more discussions with their kids about books, “Parents who have concerns about what their children are reading in a public library can always come with them and we encourage that. We encourage parents to be aware of what their children are reading; discuss books with them, and not just controversial books.” Freiler advised libraries to be careful when reviewing book complaints, since oftentimes people from out of town or out state may be writing the complaint. She additionally recommended librarians address book complaints respectfully to avoid conflicts in communities.

     Torrington Public Library’s Head of Children's Services, Sue Scribner, said books depicting multiple walks of life should be available for everyone, even for kids, so that people comprehend what others may be going through. “As librarians, it’s important to us that people have access to materials that reflect who they are and what their experiences are as well as having access to experiences”… for which they may be unknowledgeable,…”so that they can learn about those things,” Scribner told the Goshen News. “… libraries are for learning right?” She explained that reading texts that reflect experiences of others help individuals develop empathy for other people and can be beneficial for anybody.

     Gender Queer can be read digitally at the Harwinton, Thomaston, and Torrington Public Libraries. Following the Library Board of Directors meeting, Goshen community members donated copies of the book which have been reshelved in the library.   To date, those books have been checked out. Guarnieri will consider reorganizing the Goshen Public Library to create more distance between the children’s and young adult sections.