A public library in Kansas was forced to remove all of its youth-oriented LGBTQ books to have its lease extended for another year.
The St. Marys branch of the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library, which services several rural communities, was seeking the extension but came under pressure from city commissioners, who had threatened to pull the library’s lease if the library’s director, Judith Cremer, didn’t agree to pull certain LGBTQ titles from its collection.
According to the Kansas Reflector, all five city commissioners have ties to the Society of St. Pius X, a conservative religious sect with significant influence over the town.
While the commissioners are technically not supposed to control decisions regarding how the library functions, they sought to pressure Cremer into deciding between keeping the library branch open, or parting with some books that ran against the commissioners’ personal moral and religious beliefs.
Last year, St. Marys Mayor Matthew Childs, a commission member, attempted to insert a renewal clause in the library’s release that would have required it to remove all LGBTQ titles, as well as any books deemed “socially divisive.”
The clause was dropped last December after public backlash.
However, in April, commissioners resumed their crusade, with commissioners demanding the removal of all books with LGBTQ content.
“If they want to have their library, so be it,” Commissioner Gerard Kleinsmith said, according to the Kansas Register. “I will not ever vote for any taxpayer money, facilities, anything to be used anywhere that houses this kind of garbage.”
As part of this planned purge of books, an advisory committee was assembled to evaluate the books in the library’s collection.
To carry out their campaign, the committee searched the library’s catalog for keyword like “gay,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “queer,” coming up with a dozen books that were removed from the St. Marys library’s junior collection and relocated to other branches.
Cremer told the Reflector that the removed titles were “pretty mild” and that the books in question didn’t reflect anything that “isn’t normal in mainstream society.” Among those flagged by the committee were Squad, Blood Countess, The Great American Whatever, Beyond Clueless, Red Rolls of Magic, Infinity Son, and Icebreaker.
“Most of these titles, the topic really isn’t LGBTQ or anything like that,” Cremer said. “It’s just describing a reality that is normal now for most people.”
Cremer said the adult section of the St. Mary’s library still contains some LGBTQ books but that there are “probably not” any books with LGBTQ content remaining in the junior collection.
“I’m not real proud of that,” Cremer said of her decision to cede to the commissioner’s demands. “I feel bad because I think that there should be a variety of things for everybody, but like I say, we do have eight [branch] locations, and I can get anything for anybody within about a day. So that’s a compromise I have to make.”
As a result of the purge, the city commission renewed the library’s lease for another year at a Nov. 7 meeting.
It’s unclear how many more books could be removed from the library in the future, whether the city commission would demand more censorship to allow the library to continue operating, or whether commissioners might demand that even the adult section be purged of any LGBTQ-related content.
When asked if there was a line she would draw if the commissioners or the advisory committee continued to demand additional book removals, Cremer said that for now her concern is keeping the library open as a resource for the broader community.
“We need to protect all of our areas of information, so that when people need that information to make decisions about their life, we have that information available,” she said. “I know that and that’s what I’m striving for. But I do have to compromise to keep the doors open.”
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