After holding a special meeting on June 22 in which Ketchikan residents overwhelmingly voiced opposition to a graphic teen sex book at the local library, the city council voted 4-3 to support the library’s decision to keep the book in the youth section.
The book, “Let’s Talk About It,” has dominated school board, city council and borough assembly meetings across Alaska and much of the nation due to the fact that the book encourages minors to explore anal sex, engage in masturbation, find internet porn stars and create their own sexy images to share via texting.
Earlier this year, Ketchikan residents had asked the library to remove or relocate the book to the adult section, but were rebuffed by Library Director Pat Tully, who believes the book is completely appropriate for minors.
Appealing to the city council was a last gasp effort to relocate the book to keep impressionable children from stumbling across it when looking for other titles.
Council members who voted to keep the book in the youth section included Mark Flora, Janalee Gage, Abby Bradberry and Jack Finnegan. Those voting to move it to the adult area were Riley Gass, Jai Mahtani and Lallette Kistler.
During public comment, concerned parents and grandparents noted that the book downplays the role of parents, while encouraging kids to get information from their peers and the internet – including porn sites. Others argued that the book appears to be set on sexualizing youth, while mocking chastity and virginity as foolishly outdated.
One woman said she could no longer trust the local library with children, while a local father Riley Murdock said the book is unsuitable in a community library.
“This is straight up pornographic,” he said. “Why do these people insist on exposing and grooming kids with this garbage?”
He urged the council to replace city employees who peddle such books to minors.
“You guys put these people in charge,” Riley said.
Amanda Roussel urged the council to summon the “moral courage” to at least move the book to the adult section, if they can’t bring themselves to throw it “straight into the garbage.” She also challenged the scientific accuracy of a book that claims men can have vaginas and women can have a penis.
Those concerns went unheeded by the majority of the council, who sided with the librarians and their vastly outnumbered supporters.
June Dall, who chairs the Library Advisory Board, testified that they had already voted 6-1 earlier this year to keep the book in the youth section. She then proceeded to defend the book for containing valuable information – suggesting that some parents do not have the ability or willingness to discuss sensitive sexual topics with kids.
Tom Hewitt, president of the Friends of the Library, which fundraises and advocates for the library, admitted that the book is “a bit much,” but then defended it as a tool for teaching kids how to “protect” themselves.
Debora Simon, who also serves on the Library Advisory Board, sided with parents. The former English teacher, who holds a master’s degree in curriculum development, said kids are not emotionally prepared for books like “Let’s Talk About It.”
“Please place this library book in the adult section of the library where it will be age appropriate,” she pleaded.
Ultimately, however, it appeared the majority of the city council was swayed by the testimony of City Attorney Mitch Seaver, who wrote an April 4 memo on the legal principles for removing or relocating a library book.
While admitting that minors could – in theory – be protected from materials that are deemed “obscene,” he said the legal bar is very high.
Speaking directly to the council, Seaver suggested that prior court president appears to restrict even moving an objectionable book to another area of the library because it may violate constitutional and parental rights for kids and their parents who want unfettered access such material.
According to Seaver’s reading, the only people who might have solid legal authority over book placement are the librarians themselves.
That, however, has not stopped many local and state governments from removing or relocating books. According to the American Library Association there were 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of such efforts since the ALA began keeping records more than two decades ago. In response, schools, city councils and even state legislatures have acted to restrict access to certain highly offensive books, mostly dealing with various sexual themes.
Sharyl Yeisley, who was one of the people to originally challenge “Let’s Talk About It” at the Ketchikan Library, argued that the book’s placement in the youth section seems to violate state law against exposing minors to indecent material.
She noted that minors can’t enter a sex toy shop until they are 18.
Councilman Gass, who introduced the motion to move the book, emphasized that his resolution was not effort to “ban” the book, but only to relocate it to another area of the library, which is still accessible to all patrons – including children.
He said the goal was to prevent minors from unwittingly stumbling across the book.
Councilwoman Gage disagreed with this approach, claiming that any movement on the book was a violation of the First Amendment and a disservice to youth.
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At one point in the meeting, Library Director Tully was asked how the library determines which books are suitable for purchase. She said lower-level librarians have freedom to purchase books without her signing off. She added that she “trusts her professionals” to make appropriate decisions.
Tully explained that each year, her librarians purchase five to seven thousand new books, while offloading a similar number of titles that are deemed unpopular, out of date or in poor condition.
After the 4-3 vote in support of the controversial book, the three council members who voted to relocate it expressed disappointment.
Councilman Mahtini said he feels the book is “grooming kids,” adding that the library should do a better job of reflecting community concerns when purchasing materials.
Councilman Gass agreed, stating that he believes the library is using public resources to push an agenda.
“I think sometimes we need to just step back and use our common sense,” he said. “I’m concerned we are not doing that.”
Council Member Kistler noted that the council’s vote will likely lead to less parents feeling comfortable letting their kids use the community library.
— Click here to contact the Ketchikan City Council members.
— Click here to contact Ketchikan Library Director Pat Tully.