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Flathead County

Facing Another Book Challenge, Library Board Votes to Retain Title

Public comment was mostly directed toward a previous book challenge, which prompted the creation of a special “parent resource” collection

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on March 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A year ago, the ImagineIF Library system received the first of eight public requests lobbying for the removal of two books in its collection: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.” Both titles had become familiar to anyone tracking nationwide efforts to censor books addressing sexuality, gender identity and LGBTQ issues in schools and public libraries.

Since those first challenges came to light last year, library trustees voted to retain “Lawn Boy” while voting against keeping Gender Queer,” though it currently remains in the collection.

Meanwhile, challenges have continued to mount against materials in Flathead County’s public library system, including this week.

At its Oct. 27 meeting, the ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted to retain “Why Children Matter,” a Christian parenting book by Doug Wilson, a northern Idaho pastor that the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as a proponent of radical “neo-Confederate” ideology.

The challenge to the book centered on the author’s controversies, which include espousing pro-slavery sympathies, anti-LGBTQ views and allegations that he allowed alleged sex offenders to hold positions of authority in his church.

“The author’s actual actions towards children are appalling and should be disqualifying for having a book, especially about children, in the ImagineIF Library,” the complaint states. “There are better quality books authored by respected, non-controversial non-pedophile-enabling Christian Reformed pastors that could be available to the community.”

Cherilyn DeVries, a representative of the Montana Human Rights Network, spoke in favor of retaining the book in the library’s collection.

“The Montana Human Rights Network studies and researches extremism and it is very important for our researchers, and the general public, to have access to these materials without having to interact with Wilson or financially contribute to his efforts,” DeVries said. “People deserve to access key materials on white supremacy so they can study it, critique it and dismantle it.”

The professional librarians on the ImagineIF review committee unanimously recommended the book remain in the library’s collection, the same recommendation issued for the three other challenged materials.

“I have no strong feelings on that book, because it’s in the adult collection,” Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson, who last October submitted the initial book challenge to “Gender Queer,” which is also cataloged in the adult collection, prior to her appointment to the board. She also made a motion to remove the children’s book, “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness,” from the library’s collection in September.

Board member Carmen Cuthbertson at an ImagineIF Libraries board meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 27, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

ImagineIF Board Chair Doug Adams stated that he found the book to be factually correct and added that “if we start examining the lives of every author of every book and holding their past sins against them, I’m not sure that we’d have any books.”

While the discussion surrounding “Why Children Matter” was brief, discussion about the “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” dominated the public comment portion of the meeting, despite that book challenge having been discussed back in September.

The complainant, Michelle Taylor, who was unable to attend the September meeting, echoed the statements she made in the initial challenge, stating that “the book in and of itself is racist” and “clearly harmful to children.”

Three members of the public spoke in favor of “Not My Idea,” and three against it, including Travis Taylor, who narrowed in on the age-appropriate factor.

“You can put any book you want in the adult section of the library and any parent that wants to teach their child about that book can go get it,” Taylor said. “If we go to the designated children’s section at the library, then there should be some things that are off limits.”

The trustees voted to keep “Not My Idea,” but to create a special “parent resource” section for it, which library staff characterized as “a motion made out of fear, out of distrust and disdain for these materials.”

Board Chair Doug Adams at an ImagineIF Libraries board meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 27, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

At Thursday’s meeting, Adams stated the new section was no different than any other genre-based shelving.

“It was moved to an appropriate place and that is not a restriction, it is simply a different classification,” Adams said. “We can agree to disagree with it, but that decision has been made and it’s a decision that the board stands by.”

In a report to the board, Assistant Library Director Sean Anderson wrote that the library’s collection development team had “a lack of understanding about the board’s intent for this collection,” and sought clarity on the selection process and location.

After the meeting, Anderson said the removal of “Not My Idea” from the children’s section could still face legal scrutiny, citing court rulings in similar situations in which officials moved books from the children’s section to the adult section based on their content. 

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