Residents call for restricting access to certain books at Garfield County Libraries

Westley Crouch
For the Post Independent
A patron pulls a book from a shelf at Rifle Branch Library last week.
Jamie LaRue/Courtesy

Garfield County Libraries is facing opposition to having free access to certain books on the shelves.

The books in question are Japanese Manga graphic novels. Manga is said to have depictions of violence and sexual situations that can include references to LGBTQ+ culture.

Manga is a part of Japanese culture that dates back to the 12th century. In Japan, people of all ages read Manga, which can range from action and adventure to romance, comedy and even erotica. The latter is better known as Hentai. 

Children having access to Manga books is the main issue for opponents. They would like to see restrictions put in place to keep the books out of the hands of these children.

The opposition efforts are being led by Garfield County residents Trish O’Grady and John Lepkowski.

Japanese Manga books sit on a shelf at the Rifle Branch Library.
Jamie LaRue/Courtesy

O’Grady has filed a petition asking that the Manga books not be banned but relocated to a separate room where one would have to present identification and age verification to library staff to access and check out the books. 

“Garfield County Libraries have these adult Manga-style graphic novels,” O’Grady said. “The pictures depict what I could consider pornography. The issue is that there is no state policy keeping children from checking them out.”

When asked about wanting other books, besides Manga, to be placed in this proposed separate room, O’Grady replied that anything with an explicit content warning should exclusively be for people who are 18 years of age or older. 

Content warnings are generally issued by the author or publisher at their discretion for anything considered to be difficult topics or dark themes. 

O’Grady went on to explain that it’s the images that are of more concern to her and that those images are what represent pornography.

“It’s typically the drawings more than the words. Words do play into it but these kinds of books have as many drawings as they do words,” she said. “Every single page has a drawing on it, and every third page has what I would consider to be pornographic.”

Lepkowski began his efforts almost a year ago when he first learned about Garfield County Libraries carrying Manga books. The original goal was to have all the books placed on the top shelf, out of the reach of children, who he feels are too young to be exposed to such content. 

“It appears that a lot of people are pushing gay pride on children, and a lot of people do not agree with that,” Lepkowski said of the issue. “If you want to be gay, that’s fine, but at 18 or 20 years old. Do not try to push that on a five-year-old.”

Lepkowski was joined by O’Grady a couple of months ago, who heard about Lepkowski’s efforts through a friend.  

Lepkowski and O’Grady have brought multiple requests and complaints to Garfield County Libraries, including its executive director and board of trustees. The main request is to have the books be put on the top shelf, in a back area or room, or in a locked box. 

But so far their requests have been rejected. 

Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Jamie LaRue has used this opposition effort to highlight the purpose of public libraries.

“The reason (public libraries) exist is to say, ‘Hey, here’s everything that is going on,'” LaRue said. “We are not writing these books, we are not creating them, we are simply presenting them to the community so they can look at all the information and make up their own minds.”

LaRue, when asked about these challenges, reflected on how the publishing of books has changed over time, and how we see that change reflected in library content. 

“Most of the books we see in libraries — about 80% — were published in the past by mostly white, straight folks whose books represented their lives,” he said. “In the past 10 or 15 years, we started to see this rise of new voices (3% of total new books). These (voices) are from the traditionally marginalized. It’s LGBTQ, it’s people of color, it’s kind of these stories that start to reflect these emerging populations in America.”

LaRue highlighted that society is seeing a rise in challenges to library materials all across the country, not just here in Garfield County, and almost all of these challenges have focused on books represented by those 3%. 

The teens section at the Rifle Branch Library.
Jamie LaRue/Courtesy

When asked about this trend, Trinity Azuncena Stebleton, Latino outreach director for the Garfield County Democratic Party, said the library is one of the few areas where LGBTQ+ people should feel safe. She also said librarians are not our children’s parents.

Azuncena Stebleton said it should be up to the parents to talk with their children about these topics or supervise their children if they do not want them to access this kind of material. 

“Do you want them to read or go watch a bunch of videos online?” Azuncena Stebleton said.

LeRue said libraries exist for people of all ages — not just children — but that library books with adult content are marked with red stickers. He reiterated that the Manga books in question are nowhere near the children’s section and that the purpose of public libraries is to present books and information to the whole community, and not restrict what people can and cannot access. 

According to Garfield County Libraries policy, parents who do not wish their children to have access to certain materials should accompany or otherwise advise their children. 

O’Grady said she plans to address this proposal during public comment at the Garfield County Libraries’ monthly board meeting slated for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Carbondale Branch Library, 320 Sopris Ave. 

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.