Four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed last week for refusing to remove controversial books from the library’s young adult section—and yesterday, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center criticized the firings.
The groups sent a letter to the West Bend Common Council stating that the dismissals threatened free speech in two ways: punishing the board members for attempting to apply objective criteria in the selection of books, and pressuring the library to remove the controversial books. The letter said, “The role of a public library and its board members is to serve the entire community and to evaluate books and other library materials on the basis of objective criteria. By removing half the members of the library board, the Common Council is imposing its opinions on the rest of the community.”
The controversy began in February when two patrons complained that the library’s YA section included fiction and nonfiction books about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. The patrons accused the library of promoting “the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community” and demanded that the library add books “affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives.” They also insisted that the library remove books from the YA section including Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperCollins), Stephan Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Esther Drill’s Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a gURL (both Simon & Schuster).
Last week, West Bend Mayor Kristin Deiss submitted the names of four members of the library board for a new three-year term, and the council voted 5-3 to dismiss the board members.
The letter to the Common Council is available online here.