Book restriction effort spurs heated atmosphere at Garfield County Libraries meeting

Westley Crouch
For the Post Independent
Rifle resident Trish O'Grady raises her arm during a Garfield County Libraries meeting in Carbondale on Thursday.
Westley Crouch/Post Independent

Garfield County locals spoke for and against restricting access to certain books during a heated public comment period at the monthly Garfield County Libraries Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday. 

Rifle resident Trish O’Grady recently began a petition calling for restricted access to Japanese Manga books. O’Grady, along with fellow restriction proponent John Lepkowski, say the illustrations and subject matter of these books are inappropriate for children.

The books, however, are not in the children’s section and have been marked with red dot stickers to alert patrons of the adult subject matter. 

Meanwhile, the library’s existing children policy states that children under the age of six must be accompanied by an adult or caregiver (age 13 or older) at all times in the library. Children six to eight years of age must have an adult caregiver (age 13 or older) present in the library at all times.

“As of right now, we have 844 petitioners who feel the way I do,” O’Grady said during public comment, referring to the petition she and her group of proponents collected signatures for.

The Garfield County Libraries district has so far denied O’Grady’s original request to have the books placed on the top shelf. During Thursday’s meeting, O’Grady started to read part of the denial letter from the Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Jamie LaRue before being asked to sit down.

Tela Forehand, a lifelong resident of Garfield County, expressed disappointment with the library board for having what she referred to as pornographic books available to children.

“As our culture becomes more sexualized, children are the casualties of adult exploitation,” she said. “We need to combat the premature sexualization of children by adults and that requires focus from both lawmakers, courageous parents and public institutions.” 

Forehand also said sexual content at a young age promotes aggressive behavior in boys.

“And (it) sets up the role of victimization in girls, increasing their acceptance for assault and ignoring the need for consent,” she said.

People show pictures from Japanese Manga during a Garfield County Libraries meeting in Carbondale on Thursday.
Westley Crouch/Post Independent

Community member Michael Watts also spoke. Watts addressed the Garfield County commissioners, suggesting that action is needed by the BOCC over LaRue’s employment and revisiting the appointments of the current library board members. 

“You guys have a responsibility for hiring Mr. LaRue and appointing this board,” Watts said.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said, however, the commission does not have control over the library district. 

“It is a special district unto itself,” he said. “At one time, there used to be a governing body by the BOCC to the library, but once that district was formed, we relinquished all control; other than we get to review the budget — we don’t approve the budget. The only requirement is because (the board) receives funds, we review their budget to see where their dollars are going.”

Martin added, “Yes, we have applications from the board to replace a member (of the board) or put another member on. But that is it and that is our total authority over the board.”

LaRue has been a central target of the proponents for the book restrictions due to LaRue denying the initial requests made by O’Grady and Lepkowski. 

LaRue said previously that the library exists to provide information to the community, not to restrict access and it’s up to those in the community to decide what they would like to access and how to use that information when visiting the libraries. 

LaRue has written a book that covers the issue of censorship. The book is titled, “On Censorship: A Public Librarian Examines Cancel Culture in the U.S.” Such topics found in the book include personal prejudice, parental panic, demographic panic, and will to power; the latter addresses issues related to political victory and the intoxication of a mass movement. 

LaRue will be hosting a book signing at the 6-7 p.m. Sept. 21 at White River Books in Carbondale.

The majority of those who spoke during the public comment period were proponents of restrictions and even a possible ban on the books in question. But the majority of people in the room were opposed to any such restrictions, which was made clear as things began to heat up and the heckling began. 

Opponents of the book restrictions do not want a few people dictating what others can read and access. Statements from most opponents say the library is a place for everyone in the community to access the history and culture that is represented in the collection of books found in the libraries.

“Books bring up important conversations between children and guardians,” Community member Miles Cook said.

May Gray, an opponent and community member out of New Castle, echoed this sentiment. 

“Restrictions are a slippery slope,” she said. “We begin with restrictions today and end up with bans tomorrow. The library staff is well equipped to make these decisions and we should respect the decisions they have already made through denying the initial request made by Trish O’Grady and her proponents.”

As the rest of the proponents continued, however, they began to crowd the front of the room to showcase pictures of the illustrations found in the library’s Manga book collection. The presenters at this time refused to sit or take down the illustrations, and the crowd began to get visibly upset over the group of speakers who were in violation of the rules first stated before the public comment period commenced. 

Gray later went on to respond to the displayed images.

“If you don’t want kids to be seeing this adult book content, then do not blow it up and display it publicly in the very library where you are trying to restrict content,” she said.

The library board on Thursday concluded by saying that it does not address any public comments until the board has had time to review and discuss all that was said and heard. The board normally addresses the public comments during the next board meeting, which is set to take place 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Rifle Branch Library.

LaRue has said, however, that a special forum will be held to offer a formal discussion, including a review and response to statements made on book access. The board will also address the petition presented by O’Grady.

Both proponents and opponents will be able to speak during this time and the forum is open to the public. The special forum is expected to be held sometime in October, but day and time have yet to be finalized.

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