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Crook County Library faces community pressure to label LGBTQ books, remove from children’s section

(Update: Adding video, comments from Crook County library director)

Library director addresses harms and risks of following requests from some Crook County residents

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- LGBTQ-related books have become a major point of contention at the Crook County Library, as they have at other libraries around the country.

"They’re too graphic, and too borderline pornography -- child pornography," a concerned Crook County resident told the library board at its meeting last month.

Some community members are voicing frustration over LGBTQ-related books on the library shelves, saying they should be labeled and removed from the children's section of the library.

County Library Director April Witteveen said Wednesday, "Some folks feel that exposing their children to materials, with LGBTQ materials, goes against their own family values."

Another community member voiced his concern at the last board meeting.

“'The hips on the drag-queen go swish-swish-swish,'" he said, reading from one of the books. "For those of you that might not know the song, it’s from 'the wheels on the bus go round and round.' To put a book into a children's area that has to do with drag queens, singing a song that we sing to babies -- that is wrong!"

However, Witteveen said there’s a greater message to get across.

“The beauty of public libraries is the diversity that they provide," she said.

She told NewsChannel 21 there's a surmountable lack of knowledge and understanding about how library procedures work, stating that what community members are asking for violates them.

"The situation with this, and why it is an issue of censorship and intellectual freedom is that it’s coming from this 'warning' perspective," Witteveen said. "I could look out in the library right now and see a handful of materials in our 'New Books' collection that I don't like, that I would never read, that I would perhaps find offensive. But that being said, they're there because people deserve to have access to them."

Several complaints starting to be filed last spring, when elementary schools would come visit the library.

"At a certain point, one of the children brought home a book that one of the parents didn’t agree with," Witteveen said.

The problem with adhering to a specialized book shelf request in this case, Witteveen said, is that it can also lead to further stigmatization of the LGBTQ community.

“We did a survey through some of our channels to reach the LGBTQ community here, and it would be less safe to access these books than if they were just interfiled, the way they traditionally are,” she said.

With LGBTQ books all located in a specialized section, people can’t remain anonymous in perusing them.

The fiction collection in the library is organized by authors.

The special collections the library has created, Witteveen said, are generally at the request of a population who wants to see them.

"Right now, we have not received requests from the LGBTQ community in Central Oregon, and particularly in Prineville, to make the collection," Witteveen explained.

In addition to the negative impact it could have on the LGBTQ community, Witteveen said other risks include a possible sharing contract termination with the Deschutes Public Library, a major loss in federal funding, among other funding sources, and the library losing their standing as a recognized public library in the state of Oregon.

Additionally, the library’s county budget would have to absorb the costs, if it were to stand alone.

Witteveen also said she is resigning from her position as the Crook County library director to take on the position of library director at OSU-Cascades -- and in part due to the emotional stress of the controversy.

“I won’t deny that this has been a very difficult part of my life, and it has impacted my work-life balance," Witteveen shared.

The board has a meeting Thursday at 5:15 PM in the library's Broughton Room, discussing two proposals from Witteveen.

One outlines what it would take to make the designated shelf, and the other is for maintaining the status quo.

With parental rights being a big part of the procedure, Witteveen said they would better educate parents on what it means to get their child a library card.

Article Topic Follows: Crook County

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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.


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