PWPL director looks to future following book controversy
MARQUETTE — Peter White Public Library in Marquette joined many other institutions across the country facing calls to ban certain books and materials from circulation after an area resident formally requested that one of the library’s titles, “This Book is Gay,” be removed from the shelves.
The book in question is a nonfiction book by British author Juno Dawson. The book is aimed at LGBTQ+ teenagers and features a wide range of topics, some of which include in-depth discussion of sex education, that some find objectionable.
The discussion of banning the book came to a head last week during the Peter White Public Library Board of Trustees meeting, when the board voted unanimously to keep the book in circulation after more than 100 area residents attended the meeting, with more than 20 of them vocally opposing removing the book.
Peter White Director Andrea Ingmire says that the board’s decision to keep “This Book is Gay” in circulation is final, but expects other challenges to different books to be made in the future.
“I have been kind of waiting for this (a call to remove a book) to happen because it has been happening everywhere else,” Ingmire said. “We’ve learned that just because we live in Marquette, that doesn’t exempt us from the conversations that are taking place around the country right now about censorship and intellectual freedom.”
During the May 23 meeting, the large community showing featured many speeches from LGBTQ+ citizens and others opposing the ban, with nobody vocally supporting a ban.
One of the agenda items was the complaint from the resident, who found many passages in the book objectionable. While the complaint itself was available, the name of the individual was redacted, a decision that Ingmire says took a lot of thought.
“We actually had to look into that. We often share correspondence in our board packets and we do redact personal information from that. Sharing other people’s addresses and information feels wrong,” Ingmire said. “We weren’t really sure what to do, so we reached out to Libraries of Michigan about laws, including the Library Privacy Act, and were advised to redact all personal information for the purposes of the board’s packet.”
While the individual who made the initial claim remains anonymous, Ingmire says some on the board were concerned for those who spoke in a public forum that required them to give their names and personal information.
“The board is very concerned when members had to state their name and address,” Ingmire said. “We didn’t take into account that people would be sharing these very personal stories.”
Books like “This Book is Gay” are no stranger to these types of controversies, with Dawson’s 2014 book on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in the United States in 2022.
While media that deals with LGBTQ+ issues are frequently seen as controversial, Ingmire says that the content of the books aren’t important, with intellectual freedom being the central issue for the library.
“We would be having the same conversation if someone had challenged, let’s say, a Donald Trump book. Having all viewpoints means that anyone can find something in the library that they would be offended by,” Ingmire said. “From a personal standpoint, I’m concerned, and from a professional standpoint, I’m concerned when any information is taken from these collections.”
Ingmire says that being at the center of this type of controversy has taught her, as well as the library as a whole, some lessons about moving forward.
“I think we will be doing a lot of staff training in the next couple of weeks because people are asking a lot of questions of them,” Ingmire said. “A lot of patrons want to talk about the topics at hand and people’s emotions come to the surface when having these discussions about what’s right and what is wrong.”
Ingmire stressed staying informed and active within the community and encourages residents to keep up to date with the Peter White Public Library newsletter, which keeps people informed about upcoming meetings and the topics that will take center stage.
More information about PWPL and its newsletter can be found at www.pwpl.info/emailnews.
Randy Crouch can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 542. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.