Two controversial measures in Huntington Beach, Calif., both related to the future of public libraries, are drawing criticism from censorship opponents. On March 28, five YA author members of Authors Against Book Bans held a press conference with three city council members to raise awareness of public libraries and the freedom to read.

The press conference was held after Huntington Beach’s conservative-led city council voted 4–3 in favor of City Council Ordinance 4318, which would establish a committee to audit children’s library materials, along with a separate plan to seek bids from private companies interested in managing the Huntington Beach Public Library. Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, mayor pro tem Pat Burns, and council members Tony Strickland and Casey McKeon voted in favor, while Rhonda Bolton, Dan Kalmick, and Natalie Mosier were opposed.

Ordinance 4318 is up for a final introduction at the upcoming April 2 council meeting, and would go into effect 30 days after approval. The ordinance establishes a 21-member “Community Parent-Guardian Review Board for Procurement of Children’s Library Materials,” made up of three appointees per council member.

The board would “serve as a decision-making authority to the city to ensure that books that children have access to in city libraries meet the city’s community standards.” Board appointees would purchase and preview library titles for “sexual content or sexual references, before such books are purchased by the city” and would “nominate children’s books currently in circulation” for audits as well.

Freedom to read organizations EveryLibrary and PEN America have joined the group Friends of the Huntington Beach Library to cry foul. In a statement, AABB said the review process meant “diminished access” to materials, and that “books curated for libraries by expert professionals are now being put into a limbo state pending banned review.”

While the library privatization plan has been described by supporters as an efficient, cost-saving measure rather than a partner to book banners, opponents see it as a means of exerting control over civic decision making. Library Systems and Services, with headquarters in Riverside, Calif., and Rockville, Md., has proposed managing Huntington Beach Public Library system, with the city retaining ownership of the system and materials.

If approved, Ordinance 4318 would be at odds with the provisions in Assembly Bill 1825, the California Freedom to Read Act, presently under consideration to become part of the state education code. According to the California legislature’s description, AB 1825 would require “a written policy for the selection of library materials and the use of library materials and facilities in accordance with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and its interpretations” and would prohibit “proscribing the circulation of books or other resources in a public library because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval of the ideas contained in those materials.”

California Authors Stand with Councilmembers

During the March 28 press conference with AABB, moderated by author and activist Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Love in the Library) and organized by political staffer-turned-author Jess Huang, council member Dan Kalmick called Ordinance 4318 and the management plan “intertwined.” He expressed concern that “privatizing the library” will give censors “more control over the collection, with fewer protections allotted to authors and librarians.” During council meetings to review the related proposals, “we had 102 public commenters [show up in person], and we had almost a thousand emails basically saying, don't do this.”

Council member Mosier concurred that “both items attempt to undermine the professional judgment of our librarians and disregard their expertise.” She said Ordinance 4318 would put trained librarians’ decisions in the hands of “laypeople—parents and guardians from the community, with no requirements for any type of qualifications.”

Kalmick and Mosier's colleague Bolton argued, “Having one group of political leaders decide what you can access in your public library is un-American. Intellectual freedom is a First Amendment right.” Bolton said the proposed changes were an attempt “to hoodwink our city’s residents into believing there’s something wrong with our public library and that librarians present a danger to children.”

Following the three members’ statements, AABB’s participating authors—all Californians—urged Huntington Beach residents to trust library professionals and facilitate children’s critical thinking. Elana Arnold (What Girls Are Made Of) described herself as a graduate of Huntington Beach’s Ocean View High School and a longtime Huntington Beach library patron. Censors “rob readers of their freedom, and they cheat them of an opportunity to engage safely with information and art,” Arnold said. Gretchen McNeil (Four Letter Word) said, “Censors undermine one of the basic functions of education, teaching students how to think for themselves.”

Comics creator MariNaomi (I Thought You Loved Me) was “horrified” by Ordinance 4318, noting that two Asian American books—The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear and illustrator Gracey Zhang and Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi—had been singled out for “sexual” content. Graphic novelist Molly Knox Ostertag (The Deep Dark) said, “Today I'm asking the people of Huntington Beach to stand up against book banning and to trust the librarians who have studied and worked their entire lives to become experts in getting kids the right books at the right time.”

This story has been updated with additional information.