Wake County library staff will once again review LGBTQ-centered books Gender Queer and Lawn Boy in the coming weeks, this time under a new version of the policy governing whether books should be removed from the shelves.
Following backlash over the temporary removal of Gender Queer in December, library leaders took a hard look at their existing policy for reviewing book challenges. A new policy, approved by the County Manager’s Office today, goes into effect immediately, according to a news release. It will be revisited and reviewed every two years, the release states.
The policy has already undergone some revision since it was first presented to county commissioners last month. At that time, Commissioner Matt Calabria questioned exactly what criteria librarians would use in their decisions to remove, reshelve, or retain books. Calabria also asked how the library would deal with legal issues surrounding book challenges, particularly those relating to free speech and the First Amendment.
In the first draft of the policy, librarians were directed to consider “supporting documentation” when making their decision, which could include resources from the American Library Association, the library’s selection criteria, reviews of the book, awards or nominations the book has received, data on the book’s circulation, and material presented by the requester in support of removal.
The revised policy adds specific criteria for decision-making. After reading the book and considering the supporting material, librarians will make decisions based on:
— whether minors have access to materials. For example, if the challenged books are shelved in the children’s or young adult sections. Moving books from one section to another can be a form of censorship, if books aren’t available where patrons expect to find them, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. It depends on why the library is moving books—is it with discriminatory intent, or simply to put them on a shelf that matches the book’s reading level?
— Whether the material constitutes unprotected speech. Under federal and state law, speech unprotected by the First Amendment can include books that meet the legal standard for obscene or pornographic material. In order to be deemed “obscene,” a book must meet three criteria, including a lack of serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. It’s a high standard that Gender Queer doesn’t meet, according to Caldwell-Stone.
— collection management. For example, books might be removed or replaced if the library has more copies than are in demand or if the copies are old or out-of-date.
— the library’s selection criteria. This is a policy that guides what books the library purchases. It is also set to be reviewed in the coming months.
The revised policy also includes direction on when a legal expert will be involved in decision-making. The County Attorney’s Office will be consulted on “any questions of law related to the review before a final decision is made,” the release states. The county attorney will also be consulted whenever librarians vote to remove a book from the library, to ensure the decision is legal and aligns with the First Amendment.
Now that the policy is finalized, challenged books Gender Queer and Lawn Boy will once again be considered for removal. This time, however, the decision rests with a committee of nine people, including seven professional librarians who work in libraries in Wake County.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.