Library supporters come out in force

1 month ago Fremont Tribune

On Monday, Feb. 20, supporters of the Keene Memorial Library, advocates for book diversity and inclusion and those hoping to uplift Library Director Laura England-Biggs showed up in force for a meeting of the city’s library advisory board, letting book ban proponents hear their voices.

But those views did not go unmet as a large group of parents and grandparents in favor of removing certain books from the library were also on hand at the meeting of the Keene Memorial Library Advisory Board Monday. They expressed their views seeking some books on topics of sex education and LGBTQ+ issues to be removed from the library.

Monday’s meeting included an agenda item to consider an appeal of a banned book request from local grandmother Sandra Murray, who was seeking to have the book “Sex is a Funny Word” removed from the library.

The two groups squared off peacefully both outside and inside the facility aside from one verbal altercation outside the Fremont Municipal Building before the board meeting began.

That incident was between Robert “Bert” Murray – Sandra Murray’s husband – and Ethan Kindler – Sandra Murray’s son-in-law – and members of a local family who were holding signs in support of diverse books and the library.

After Robert Murray yelled insults and slurs at the group, and Ethan Kindler showed explicit images from one of the books in questions on his cell phone to two women, the incident was quickly controlled by Fremont police officers with no arrests or other actions.

Inside the building, activists from both sides flooded the city council chambers and hallways surrounding the room, with many carrying home-made signs both supporting the library and the presence of what they say are needed books, while others had signs decrying alleged indoctrination and the claims of inappropriate sexually explicit books unsuitable for children in their opinions.

A heavier than usual law enforcement presence was on hand at the request of city officials, with at least three Fremont Police Department officers outside the Municipal Building and another officer stationed inside the council chambers. Additionally, a Dodge County sheriff’s deputy patrolled the area before and during the meeting.

Once the meeting started, City Attorney Travis Jacott warned those in attendance that proper decorum was required during the meeting, including, “no booing” and no raising of voices.

“If there are violations of any of the rules, there are sworn officers (police) to remove people,” Jacott warned.

The agenda item that drew what many said was an unprecedented crowd to the meeting stemmed from an original complaint from Sandra Murray and her daughter, Brianna Kindler. The mother-daughter duo first began to complain about books in the city library they object to – both sexual education and LGBTQIA-themed books – on Dec. 27, 2022, during a meeting of the Fremont City Council.

Although library officials relocated “Sex is a Funny Word” and six other sexual education books on Dec. 28 from the children’s section to the adult section of the library, Sandra Murray then filed an official appeal to have “Sex is a Funny Word” totally banned from the library.

On Jan. 16, England-Biggs sent a determination letter to Sandra Murray, informing her that she’d decided to keep the book in the library because it had educational value to local families and readers. On Jan. 20, Murray appealed that ruling from England-Biggs, leading to Monday’s agenda item.

Once the item was placed on the library board meeting agenda, and City of Fremont officials announced that no public comment would be allowed at the library board meeting, Sandra Murray’s other daughter – Kelley Garay – organized a “silent protest” to express their feelings about the books.

That protest led to the counter-protest by library supporters, many of whom donned rainbow T-shirts or clothing buttons as well as lapel buttons that had a message of, “I read banned books,” which they’d gotten from downtown Fremont bookstore, The Wise Olde Owl.

Brief debate preceded vote to keep book

Once the meeting began, Library Board President Linda McClain quickly moved through to the item the crowd was on hand for: the appeal of England-Biggs’ decision to retain “Sex is a Funny Word.”

After asking England-Biggs to update the board and attendees on the issue, McClain opened up discussion of the book appeal. One member, Ryan Fiala, was not present.

Board Member LeAnn Rathke – who in 2021 had herself petitioned unsuccessfully to have a book on birthing removed from the city library – made a motion to table the appeal from Sandra Murray, telling the board that she felt the issue needed more research and attention before a decision was made.

“I have made a motion to table this until the March library board meeting to allow the board to review the library and board’s selection policies,” Rathke said, noting that she had done extensive research on American Library Association recommendations and policies on book selection processes. “I want our library board to be made aware of what is available to children. This is one book, but I don’t know if it will be the last book (contested).”

Rathke’s motion to table the appeal did not receive a second, which under Robert’s Rules of Order means that the motion “dies” and is not voted on.

Board Member Amanda Moenning then spoke, noting that she is both a mother and a teacher, and that in her opinion, “Sex is a Funny Word,” is, “helpful for parents. It is an educational tool.”

Rathke then spoke again, lobbying for continued discussion on controversial books. Among her objections to the book were statements in “Sex is a Funny Word” regarding gender and sexual identities, as well as terms she discovered in the book’s glossary.

“Right now, our policy leaves pretty much everything (books) open to everyone,” Rathke added, saying she wants parents to be confident going into the children’s section of the library.

“I appreciate (England-Biggs) relocating the book, but it is still available in e-books and online to anyone with a children’s library e-card,” Rathke added. “I would love to work with Laura and the library board on policy reviews.”

The board then voted in a 3-1 decision to support England-Biggs decision to keep “Sex is a Funny Word” on shelves. Rathke was the only ‘no’ vote.

Book controversy not over

What’s next in the issue of controversial books is up in the air, as under the city’s municipal code, the library board’s decision can be over-ruled by the city council.

That possibility could be thwarted by Fremont City Council President Mark Jensen, who represents the city’s Ward 3.

Jensen watched the library board meeting from the back of the city council chambers on Monday, reiterating his support for England-Biggs, the library board as a whole and keeping sexual education and LGBT books available in the library.

“I support them completely,” Jensen said of the scores of library lovers and anti-censorship activists at the meeting. “(Keene Memorial Library) is a public library. The material has to meet criteria for someone to find value in it. These books meet that criteria, they have value to library users. I thought it was important (Monday night) that the library board saw not only the negative, but all the supporters they have.”

Following the meeting, during a robust online discussion of the meeting in the Facebook forum, “Fremont Nebraska Discussions,” Jensen vowed to try to stop any appeal by Sandra Murray of the book at the city council.

“First (a person) has to find a council (member) willing to put it on the agenda. Next, at the beginning of the (meeting) there is a motion to adopt the current agenda,” Jensen wrote on Facebook. “I have already publicly stated that I will make a motion to remove that item from the agenda, and it will require a full vote of the council for it to remain on the agenda.”

England-Biggs on Tuesday said in an email she was elated at the robust and vigorous support from library afficionados who came to the meeting to express their views.

“I was greatly encouraged by the number of library supporters in the audience last night. It can be scary to stand up for what you believe in, such as the principles of intellectual freedom and an individual’s right to choose materials for themselves,” England-Biggs said in her email. “I thank each person who attended to support the library or spoke words of encouragement behind the scenes. It means more than you can imagine.”

“Sex is a Funny Word” is not the only book being contested. Sandra Murray filed in early February another official contested material form, seeking to have the LGBTQ-themed book “This Book is Gay” totally banned from the Keene Memorial Library in both physical and electronic formats.

That request to reconsider material is currently being reviewed by England-Biggs, who has yet to make a decision on the request.

Sandra Murray said on Tuesday, Feb. 21, that her activism about what she feels are sexually explicit and inappropriate books in the city library is not over. She’s previously identified 87 LGBTQ+-themed books she feels do not belong in the library.

“I expected (the library board) to do that,” Sandra said of rejecting her appeal. “I was really encouraged at the big turnout that supported us. We have found more books that make (“Sex is a Funny Word”) look like a fairy tale. I will continue to expose this stuff to the community.”

Sandra Murray also thanked Rathke for her support from the board perspective, noting that Rathke’s efforts to press the pause button on the issue to continue research were welcome. She also said she expects the issue to come before the Fremont City Council.

“(The city council) should be doing that,” Sandra said of reviewing the library board decision. “My suspicion is that some council member may put it on an agenda. But, it’ll likely get thrown off like other items.”











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