More people file objections with county library over book controversy

Judge allows requesters to remain anonymous

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

Since the beginning of the year, the Gunnison County Library District has received four “Requests for Reconsideration of Materials” asking that the book Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe be moved within or be removed completely from the local library. A similar filing was made last fall and the district earlier this year said it would keep the book in circulation as it had since obtaining the book.

The requests made in 2022 have come from four separate individuals but because of a May 16 District Court ruling by judge Steven Patrick, the names of the people filing the requests were redacted and the individuals kept anonymous.

Recent court judgment shields those making the request

The court made the judgment after the library district and district executive director Drew Brookhart asked the court for clarification over a state statute dealing with public records requests related specifically to library users. 

The clarification request to the court came after the district provided the full Request for Reconsideration form filed by Rebecca White over the same book last fall to local newspapers.

It should be noted that prior to the district’s release of her Request for Reconsideration form, White had publicly identified herself and stated her opinion of the book at public meetings of both the Gunnison County commissioners and the Library Board of Trustees. Still, White filed a complaint with the Gunnison Police after the Crested Butte News quoted from her Request document saying that Brookhart and the district had broken the law in releasing the document and her name. The Seventh Judicial District district attorney considered the evidence and declined to pursue the case. 

But the library district wanted to make sure Brookhart was not put in any legal jeopardy if he released such documentation in the future, and the Crested Butte News had requested copies of any and all such requests filed since the beginning of the year. In the library district’s Application for Judgment filing, it was made clear that Brookhart was asking the court to address the question of whether to release the documents in their entirety, or without identifying personal information. “Brookhart was unable, in good faith after exercising reasonable diligence and after reasonable inquiry, to determine if the Requests are prohibited from disclosure by CORA (Colorado Open Records Act)…Brookhart is asking the court to address this question…”

The Crested Butte News basically argued in court filings that such Requests for Reconsideration were not user records of library patrons withdrawing material from the library but rather voluntary submissions asking the district to change the policies of a public entity. As such, the entire document should be released with the premise that the public deserved to know who was asking for such policy changes and whether or not they were even a part of the immediate community that would be impacted by such policy changes. The News essentially argued that anonymity prevented transparency and accountability with business being conducted for a public entity.

The court agreed that the documents should be provided to the newspaper under CORA, but personal information should not be included and identifying information should be redacted. Patrick concluded that under the state statue, a library user “is not limited to someone who reads materials in the library, or, checks out material, but inclusive of any person ‘using’ library services.”

The Crested Butte News has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Latest Requests for Reconsideration

After the court ruling was released, the library district provided the redacted documents this week to the Crested Butte News. Of the four Request documents, three asked that the book be moved to the “Adult Section” of the library while one argued the book was not appropriate at all for the county library. The requests were filed February 22, March 18, March 19 and March 23.

The arguments addressing the content in the book included that portions of the book were obscene; that the content is for adults only and was pornographic and sexually descriptive; that the book was pornography based and being pushed with acceptance to young adults thus confusing the youths of America; and is filled with sexual language regarding homosexuality and oral sex.

The February request asked that the book be shelved “in the adult section and require parental accompaniment for checkout by a minor child; provide a filter in the online catalog requiring the person downloading the digital or audio copy to be over the age of 18.”

The document filed on March 18 claimed the book was inappropriate for the library and indicated it should be removed and not replaced.

The person filing the request on March 19 stated that, “as a victim of child abuse, I find the book offensive for young children and also can be very hurtful…This is not educational material and should not be in the juvenile section.” That person asked that the book be moved to the adult section.

The fourth request filed on March 23 suggested the book be “moved to the 16-year and older section. Above fifth grader’s eye level. This book should NOT be available to ANYONE under 16 years of age.”

The district has not taken any official action on any of the Requests for Reconsideration of Material filed in 2022.

Brookhart said he could not confirm if the four individuals were all residents of Gunnison County. He explained that under current district policy, when a Request for Reconsideration is received, the request is shared with the library board of trustees. The library director then conducts a review of the material and a review of the process by which the item was selected for the collection. The library director then issues a decision in writing to the requester and also shares that written decision with the library board of trustees.

“You will notice that the requests for reconsideration range from comments on the specific physical location of a single title to technical or policy-based limitations on who is able to access the title,” Brookhart said in response to an email from the CB News. “I have not yet delivered decisions on these four requests. The book that is a subject of this request is not currently, and has never been, shelved in a juvenile or children’s section of the library. Children ages eight and under are required to be accompanied when using the libraries. Children under the age of 13 need a parent’s signature to obtain a library card and parents have full control over their child’s use of the libraries’ collections and services.” 

The book is currently cataloged and shelved in the Young Adult section of the library.

Brookhart cited the February 17 board meeting that drew a crowd arguing against any effort to ban or move the book Gender Queer: A Memoir. That reaction was spurred by a November Request for Reconsideration by White addressing the content of the book. At that time Brookhart indicated the library district would continue to allow Gender Queer to “be available to the residents and visitors of Gunnison County, Colorado. The memoir will remain in the collections of the Gunnison County Library District,” he wrote at the time.

“At that February board meeting the library district heard from dozens of community members who spoke about the importance of having access to the title that is the subject of these requests,” he said this week. “The Library District has a strategic objective that everyone in the community may see themselves reflected in the libraries’ collections.”

There was no timeline given on when the district might provide an official response to the four recent Requests for Reconsideration.

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