Patron submitted an official book challenge on one of my books the other day. By one of my books, I mean in my collection BUT it also turns out one I myself had ordered in late 2018. And at the time I did think about potential ramifications but I believe (and still do) that it fits well in our collection (it has circulated seven times since it was put on the shelf; that’s a lot for us) and was a cute and fun book about being an individual and comfort in your own skin. Some librarians go their whole career without a challenge; it took me 16 months.
The “problem” is that the main character has two dads and those dads are of different race. It is a picture book and the challenge states that this book is an attack on traditional family values. It doesn’t specifically say if it is sexual orientation or race that is the attack (or penguins, the main character dresses like and meets penguins). Ok, probably not the penguins that are an issue. But as an aside, I do wonder if the author picked penguins as a hat tip to And Tango Makes Three. Just tossing that out there.
At first, I was angry. Oh, golly was I angry. How dare they? Do they not realize that the library is for everyone? The entire community. That in our small community I serve, I can think of at least two children with two dads. The power of finding yourself in the pages of a book is such a rock of support no matter what your age, but especially at a young age. I can remember vividly times I have seen myself in a character in a book and thought ‘ok, I am odd and strange but apparently not THAT odd and strange if someone like me is in a book!’ And this person who is part of this challenge wants to deprive someone of that sense of community and belonging. How dare they!
Then I got sad. Why can’t we be kind? If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. I have put down many books that I am like, meh no. Heck I order books monthly that I read the flap and think, nope not a book for me. But to say a public place cannot own a book or is allowed to own it but needs to keep it in a special section where their precious cannot run into said books, it makes me sad for the kids they are raising and society at large. Over 20 people signed the petition from this town. Sad, it makes me sad if that reflects the views the community.
I have landed at tired and gun-shy. I was working on next month’s book order and I realized I was being hesitant to select books that didn’t portray the stereotypical, 2.5 kids, picket fence family. I stopped working on my book order and started mentally drafting this instead. Because I don’t want to be that librarian. I don’t want my collection to be so vanilla that it only appeals to the mean of my population (as in average, not as in spiteful; though that sort of works also, now doesn’t it?). I want to provide the resources to the community that it needs, not keep my head down and do nothing.
My director will respond and say, After review, this book fits into our collection and will not be removed (in a lot more words). My guess is that this person/group will then appeal this decision to the Library Board and ask the board to have the book removed.
When I was in my angry stage, Suzy said to me, What would Mr. Rogers do in this situation? And I took a moment and thought, he would use this as an opportunity. He would be angry and sad at home. He might pound his keys on his piano in privacy. But he would use this as an opportunity to show what the library is and can be. He would remind people that everyone has value, makes their own choices and that is ok. He would remind people to be kind.
I will go to that board meeting and if called upon I will try to remind those in the room of the above (and the Library Bill of Rights). And I will continue to order books that allow kids to see themselves and their situation in written fomat (including lots of penguins), so they know they are not alone and that there are authors, illustrators and librarians that have their back (and their penguin’s back).