The Ketchikan City Council last week voted to move a controversial book about sex and relationships from the teen section to the adult section of the public library. That reverses a previous vote to keep the book in place.

The book in question is the graphic novel, “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being Human.” Controversy over the book has been going on for months with citizens first asking that the book be completely removed from collections and later that it be moved to the adult section of the public library.

At its June 22 meeting, the Ketchikan City Council voted 4-3 to leave the book in the teen section. The council heard from Ketchikan City Attorney Mitch Seaver who cited several court cases and said that moving the book to the adult section could violate First Amendment Rights. 

At that meeting, Councilmember Abby Bradberry voted to keep the book in place. However, she later questioned the city’s legal opinion and brought the issue back to the council. 

“It was based on the Wichita case which, the book in question, was in relation to religion which is a protected item or sector. And I don’t feel that that is comparative to what we are talking about which was ‘maturity of content’ which is not a protected item.”

Councilmember Jack Finnegan had voted to keep the book in the teen section. After reading aloud a portion of the city attorney’s written comments he added further thoughts. 

“I’m incredibly concerned that we’re going to fall down into this rabbit hole. We’re going to have to do this again and again and again. And the city council is somehow going to become the arbiter of what’s appropriate for the books in our library. That is not our role. That is the role of the librarians. That’s why we’ve hired them. That’s their job.”

Finnegan said he understands that the book is not for everyone and added that all families are different.

“Numerous families spoke both at the library advisory board meeting in April, at our meeting on June 22, and again tonight about the value of this book for their families. The library has a duty to serve the public at large. They cannot kowtow to the specific needs of a specific subset of people who might object to the book that doesn’t share their values.”

Bradberry, who brought the issue back to council, proposed an amendment with five points. It added language that the city finds the

“Number 4: The City designates the book as pervasively vulgar and educationally unsuitable for minors because the book goes far beyond anatomical depictions or descriptions of sexual education with highly explicit cartoon illustrations of a variety of sexual acts including masturbation, such as on pages 91, page 117-119 and 165, that parents might not be aware are included in the book.”

The amendment also stated that the book’s content is presented as medical fact without a disclaimer that the authors are not medical professionals. The council approved the motion to move the book out of the teen section and add the city’s opinion of the book by a vote of 4-3 with Councilmembers Bradberry, Riley Gass, Lalletter Kistler and Jai Mahtani voting in favor. Councilmembers Finnegan, Mark Flora and Janalee Gage voted against.

The book’s controversy has been going on for months in Ketchikan. The citizens’ request to remove the book from the teen section started in February. It first went to the library’s head of children’s services who denied the request. An appeal was then made to the library director who upheld the decision, saying it met the requirements of the library’s policies. A request to move the book rather than remove it was then brought to the Library Advisory Board. That request was denied, though the board can only make recommendations. Then, a request to move the book was brought before the city council.

And the issue still might not be over. More meetings about the library’s book policies are being scheduled. 

On Wednesday, July 12, the Ketchikan Public Library Advisory Board is scheduled to review the library’s Collection Development Policy and book placement procedures. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Ketchikan Public Library. Also up for discussion is the public’s perception of library policies, practices and programming.

Disclosure: Jai Mahtani is a member of KRBD’s volunteer board of directors. He is not involved in the newsroom.