Emails reveal city’s game plan over book ban requests

29 days ago Fremont Tribune

The City of Fremont, officials from the Keene Memorial Library and the library’s advisory board planned out a response to “defuse” a potential controversy over a request to remove books from the city’s public library, emails obtained by the Fremont Tribune show.

In response to two public records requests, the City of Fremont provided scores of pages of emails and other information related to the discussion about book ban efforts amongst city leaders, city administrators, library board members and Library Director Laura England-Biggs.

Among the findings in the documents were an admission from England-Biggs that she violated the library’s own policies by relocating the book “Sex is a Funny Word” and six other sexual education books on Dec. 28, 2022, from the children’s section of the library to the adult section.

Library policy requires such relocations to be done upon a request from a patron, which is then reviewed by the library director before any action is taken.

Other revelations included worries the effort to ban books—led by local business woman Sandra Murray—would affect fund-raising for the library’s expansion project; as well as instructions and coaching from England-Biggs to library board members on how to reply to citizens and the media if contacted about the book controversy.

Library policies violated with relocation

Sandra Murray’s efforts to have two books banned from Keene Memorial Library became official when she followed the library’s own policy and filled out an official reconsideration of materials request seeking to remove the books “Sex is a Funny Word” and “This Book is Gay.”

Under the library’s policies, books and material can only be relocated or removed from the library if an official request is made. Those requests are first reviewed by the library director, who makes a decision. If the complainant disagrees with that decision, the person can appeal to the library’s advisory board, followed by the Fremont City Council.

None of that occurred with the initial response to complaints about five sex education and LGBTQ+-themed books by Sandra Murray and her daughter, Brianna Kindler, at the Dec. 27 meeting of the Fremont City Council.

The following morning, Dec. 28, Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg, Fremont City Administrator Jody Sanders and Keene Memorial Library Board President Linda McClain visited the library and met with England-Biggs to discuss the book complaint from the night before.

The group decided at that time to relocate “Sex is a Funny Word” and six other sexual education books from the children’s section of the library to the adult section, where they could not be seen by minors without an adult checking them out first.

In an email dated 10:04 a.m., Dec. 28, after the meeting, England-Biggs wrote a description of the meeting to all eight city council members, all five library board members, Spellerberg and Sanders.

“Sandra Murray spoke during public comment and raised a concern about a children’s book, ‘Sex is a Funny Word.’ Her primary concern seems to be that the library is grooming children for the sex act while usurping parental rights to teach children about sensitive subjects like sex, homosexuality, and gender identity,” England-Biggs wrote in her email.

Noting that she had a meeting prior to sending the email with McClain, Sanders and Spellerberg, England-Biggs told the council and library board members that all four were, “concerned about what happened because of the importance of the library Expansion Project to the community.” She also said she believed the issue would be reported on by the Tribune.

“In consultation with City Council Library Liaison Sally Ganem, we decided to move the seven books in the ‘Sex Instruction for Children’ subject area to the adult section. They will remain available in the library,” England-Biggs noted. “While we realize this decision does not follow the library’s formal policy, it was the group’s feeling this immediate action was necessary to defuse the situation.”

During a later interview with the Tribune, England-Biggs admitted the moving of the seven sex education books was done without an official records relocation request.

“There is no process to circumvent the policy. It was just a mutual decision,” England-Biggs said. “(The relocation) came up in discussion as a potential solution to (Murray’s complaints). (The policy) is a request for reconsidering. The request can be for removal, it can be for relocation, it can be for reclassification…it can be for a number of outcomes.”

In her first interviews with the Tribune about the relocation of the seven books, England-Biggs said she was not “ordered” to move the books by Spellerberg or Sanders, and merely described the move as a “mutual decision.”

However, in a Jan. 18 interview with the Tribune, England-Biggs changed her answer, stating the relocation of the seven sexual education books was designed to give parents more security and assurances that sexually explicit content would not be accessible to children.

In a Jan. 18 email, after the interview, obtained by the Tribune via a public records request, England-Biggs wrote to Spellerberg, Sanders and McClain a message referring to the interview she did with the Tribune earlier that day.

England-Biggs apologized for revealing a different reason for the relocation than the group had agreed on.

“(The Tribune) asked me why we moved the books to the adult section, officially,” England-Biggs wrote to the trio. “I forgot the code of, ‘we came to a mutual decision,’ and explained that I thought it was to give parents more control over selection of the books. Sorry, I wish I had done better.”

On Jan. 26, England-Biggs clarified the email – claiming the she misspoke in her interview on Jan. 18 and did not mean to make a misleading inference that Spellerberg, Sanders and McClain felt the way she described. She also said her Jan. 18 email to the trio was not what it seemed.

“We left (the relocation of sex education books) as a group decision. What I gave (the Tribune) was my reason, it was not discussed (by Spellerberg, Sanders and McClain),” England-Biggs said on Jan. 26.

The six other books moved on Dec. 28, 2022, include: “The Every Body Book,” “Who Has What: All About Girls and Boys Bodies,” “It is So amazing! A book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families,” “The Girls Guide to Growing Up: Choices and Changes in the Tween Years,” “The Boys Guide to Growing Up: Choices and Changes During Puberty,” and a tome titled, “It’s Not the Stork: a Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends.”

Effect on library donations another worry

One area of concern about the book controversy revealed in the emails and communications reviewed by the Tribune was the concern from many about the potential for a negative impact on library fundraising.

Keene Memorial Library is currently in the early stages of a massive expansion project, and the groundbreaking for the construction was hosted on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. That expansion project is being partly funded by donations from the public.

In an email three days after Murray’s first complaint at the Dec. 27 city council meeting, Keene Memorial Library Advisory Board President Linda McClain wrote to Cara Taback and Robyn Stein, two library researchers who were working on an article for Public Libraries Magazine.

McClain told the duo that she and Library Director Laura England-Biggs had raised nearly $4 million for the library expansion project.

“I don’t know what the future holds in regard to this recent (book) challenge. Am I looking forward to it? No,” McClain wrote. “I hate that this issue will take away from all of the momentum and positive energy we’ve created around our library recently.”

On Dec. 29, two days after Sandra Murray’s complaints about the books, library board member Becky Pence wrote in an email to McClain that she was upset the issue could impact fundraising for the library.

“You have worked so hard to raise so much money and put the library in a positive light,” Pence wrote. “I want to believe in some way this will work in favor of the library and show the community how important of an institution it is.”

In a telephone interview on Jan. 25, Murray said she believes many donors to the library expansion project are unaware of what she calls sexually explicit and inappropriate adult and LGBT books available in the library. Murray said donors need to be aware of what they are giving money to.

“Our biggest thing is we want the community to realize what is in their library. Especially the people who donate to (the library) and do not realize what they are donating to,” Murray said. “They are big donors. The library wants to sexualize children. I just don’t think (the books) should be in the library.”

During a Feb. 20 meeting of the library advisory board, Sandra Murray and nearly 20 of her supporters showed up at the meeting, with many holding hand-made signs stating “Defund or Defend” in relation to the controversial books and how they believe children should be shielded from them.

England-Biggs said in a Jan. 26 telephone interview that she was not aware Murray was attempting to affect potential library donors with information about the books she disapproves of, but noted fundraising is always a concern.

“I am worried about fundraising all of the time, I don’t know if I am worried about this (book issue) affecting it,” she said, adding that she had no comment on Murray trying to sway donors away from funding the library.

Emails from England-Biggs, McClain and the city’s grant coordinator Angie Olson revealed that as of late January, 2023, a total of $7,624,048 had been raised toward the library expansion project.

That total included more than $518,000 in gifts; $1,294,007 in individual family gifts; $10,400 from the library memorial brick campaign; and $2,394,500 in private and foundation grant funds.

Media coverage a concern of many

The emails also revealed worries from England-Biggs, McClain and others that the effort by Sandra Murray would be covered by local media, including from the Fremont Tribune.

On Thursday, Dec. 29, two days after Sandra Murray first complained about the five books she objected to, McClain sent an email to the library board members and Ward 4 Council Member Sally Ganem with a link to the Fremont Tribune’s daily e-newsletter.

“Want you all to be aware of two front page stories in the Fremont Tribune today that involve the library. Yesterday, you should have received an email from Laura giving you a ‘heads up’ this was coming,” McClain wrote, noting that Murray had falsely stated at the council meeting she had spoken to McClain about the books. “For the record, I want you all to know I’ve never talked to Sandra Murray about this issue or any issue related to the library.”

Library board member Becky Pence responded to McClain, telling her she was, “so sorry this is happening,” and also stating she had no idea who Sandra Murray is.

“I have been trying to figure out who she is,” Pence wrote. “Does she own a store here? I haven’t even had a chance to read the book yet, but it is on my to-do list.”

Pence then told McClain an unknown person had texted her on Dec. 27 telling her she, “better remove the book,” from the library.

“I am so upset someone (Murray) would behave this way,” Pence concluded, before encouraging McClain to submit her name to the city as a possible appointed replacement for former Council Member Vern Gibson, who had announced his retirement the same night as Murray’s complaints.

In an email dated 4:13 p.m., Friday, Dec. 30, England-Biggs told the members of the library advisory board, Spellerberg and Sanders she was concerned Sandra Murray would attend future meetings of the library board, and also how to respond to questions from citizens or the media.

“(The) second question was, what to say if someone asks a question about the current events. If anyone asks you something, the best response is along the lines of what I said in the (Tribune),” England-Biggs wrote.

The first thing she advised was to respond with a comment, “The library board supports a parent’s right to choose what to allow their children to read, and what to teach them when.”

England-Biggs then offered a second talking point for questions, telling the library board, mayor and city administrator a second answer was to say, “The library board believes no individual parent has the right to make those choices for all children.”

The library director then told the group that if they were uncomfortable making comments to residents or the media, they could refer questions to her. She also said she did not want the public to know her personal cell phone number.

In a Dec. 30 email to the same group, England-Biggs informed the recipients that one of her friends had seen the coverage of the book issue in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper and that it had been published there.

On Feb. 20, the library advisory board rejected in a 3-1 vote Sandra Murray’s appeal of a decision to retain “Sex is a Funny Word” in the library. However, Murray has a second request for removal currently being reviewed by England-Biggs, hoping to have the LGBTQ+ tome, “This Book is Gay” totally removed from the library in physical and e-reader formats.











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