Library board votes to keep gay-friendly book on shelf

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Parents and children take part in activities at ImagineIF Library in Kalispell in this file photo. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake file)

The Kalispell ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees concluded at a public meeting on Wednesday that a LGBTQ-friendly children’s book recently read aloud to a group of pre-schoolers will remain on the shelf as part of the library’s collection, despite suggestions to remove it.

After a storytime session on March 18 featured “Prince & Knight,” a gay-inclusive fairytale in which a prince falls in love with a knight, a local teacher, Sherry Stockholm, submitted a letter to the editor to the Daily Inter Lake.

Stockholm’s letter said, among other things, she considers the topic of gay marriage to be “totally inappropriate for an audience of preschoolers,” and was disappointed the librarian did not notify her in advance that she would “introduce such a controversial subject to innocent children.” The letter was printed on April 4 along with the library’s policies for book selection when building its inventory.

Since the letter, library staff said they have received about 70 public comments regarding the book and subsequent reading. Some commentary challenged the book as being part of the library’s collection in general, requesting it be removed from the shelf. That’s a challenge that usually prompts the board and staff to discuss possibilities such as whether to ban the book from the library, according to library officials. Most of the comments offered words of support to ImagineIF for offering gay-friendly material and for choosing to read them aloud.

In addition to the board voting to keep the book on the shelf, Board Chair Michael Morton said the library will work on creating policies for various programs, including storytime sessions. When created, the policies will be made public on ImagineIF’s website alongside the already-existing policies for considering which books should be added to their collection.

The vote to keep the book on the shelf came after multiple community members expressed their views on the material itself.

Kelly Dougherty, who has lived in Flathead County for more than 20 years and is a part-time employee at the library, said banning the book would have been a “step back” from the culture of inclusion ImagineIF has worked to procure over the years.

Multiple Flathead Valley residents who identify as gay stressed how such literature can greatly help those struggling with their own identities. Kedryn McElderry, 19, said he came out as gay in 2014 and wishes more gay-inclusive books would have been available.

“It [coming out as gay] was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done and I did it here in the Flathead Valley,” McElderry said. “Had I had a book like that on the shelf, I might have realized a lot sooner that I could love myself. I might have realized a lot sooner that it’s O.K. to feel different.”

Cherilyn DeVries with Love Lives Here said the act of removing such literature would send a harmful message to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community, and also inquired where the line should be drawn in removing literature from the library.

“The subtext of this is ‘your stories don’t belong and you don’t belong.’ How many other people are we telling that to at the library?” DeVries asked. “Do we say that Christian authors don’t belong? Do we say Muslim authors don’t belong? Do we say Jewish authors don’t belong?”

However, community member Doug Adams reiterated certain points made in Stockholm’s letter. He said, among other things, he believes parents should have authority over what materials they expose their children to and was worried the library may be “pushing an agenda.”

“I have my own agenda, I have my own biases, I have my own prejudices as you do,” Adams said, addressing others at the meeting. “But I don’t think that this was a venue in which that should have been displayed to little kids. I’m not sure it’s an agenda that should have been displayed to anybody.”

He did say, however, that he believed the issue of censorship or the potential removal of the book from the library’s inventory was unnecessary.

ImagineIF Library Director Connie Behe reiterated ways in which “Prince & Knight” meets ImagineIF’s guidelines for its collection development — information that is available online.

According to the library’s website, criteria includes customer demand and interest, the author’s reputation and significance as a writer and critical reviews.

Behe said since the book was added to the shelf last May, it has circulated an average of 1.2 times per month. When taking into consideration how long a book is usually checked out from the library, she said that means the book is basically never on the shelf.

The book made the American Library Association’s 2019 Rainbow Book List Top Ten and has garnered positive reviews from noteworthy book-review organizations including Kirkus Reviews and Booklist.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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