UPDATE (5/30/23): The meeting has been postponed. No new date has been announced.
Should a nonfiction book in the teen section of the public library be relocated to the adult section? That’s a question the Ketchikan City Council will tackle during a special meeting on Tuesday.
The book in question is “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. In February, ten people submitted forms to the library requesting that the book be removed. Only one person indicated that they read the entire 240-page graphic novel. The others wrote that they had only seen a few sections posted online.
The book’s publisher, Random House, describes it as a resource for teens to learn more about themselves, their identities and their bodies.
The request to remove the book from the library’s teen nonfiction section first went to Amie Toepfer, the library’s head of children’s services. She determined that the book met the requirements of the Collection Development Policy and sent letters to the ten individuals informing them of her decision to retain the book. In her letter, Toepfer said the library encourages parents to accompany their children to the library to select material they feel is appropriate for their family, and pointed to reviews praising the book.
Two appeals of Toepfer’s decision were sent to Library Director Pat Tully. Tully responded, backing the decision to retain the book.
One of those filing an appeal was Ketchikan resident Tanya Hedlind who describes the book as “sexually explicit.” She appealed again, this time to the Ketchikan Public Library Advisory Board, which held a public hearing on April 12. In her appeal, Hedlind did not request that the book be removed, but asked that it be relocated to the adult section of the library.
Ketchikan City Attorney, Mitch Seaver issued a memo prior to that meeting, citing a wide range of court cases indicating that libraries cannot restrict minors’ access to materials unless they are “obscene.” Seaver says “obscene” has a special legal meaning, one element being that the book must be QUOTE “utterly without redeeming social importance to minors.” He also noted that moving the book to the adult section could violate the First Amendment.
The board voted 6-1 to recommend that the book be kept in the teen section. As an advisory committee, the board’s vote is non-binding. It provides advice to the library director and Ketchikan City Manager Delilah Walsh. At the meeting, Walsh said the decision to keep the book in the teen section could be appealed to the City Council.
And that is the sole topic up for discussion at the city council meeting on Tuesday.
At the council’s April 20 meeting, Council member Riley Gass requested, and received four hands support, for the council to consider moving the book from the teen section to the adult section. In a memo to the mayor and city council, Manager Walsh recommends that the book be moved.
Following the Library Advisory Board meeting, board member Deborah Simon posed several follow up questions to attorney Seaver. His response to those questions were included in a memo to the mayor and council. Questions included whether he believed it unconstitutional to MOVE a book from one section to another or unconstitutional REMOVING a book at a citizen’s request.
Seaver stated under rulings in several legal cases, moving children’s books from the children’s area of the library to the adult section violated the children’s First Amendment right to receive information. Additionally, if removal is motivated by a disagreement with the ideas promoted by the book, then the removal would be unconstitutional.”
The special meeting of the Ketchikan City Council begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall Members of the public may comment at the beginning of the meeting. The meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and live streamed on the city’s website.