A number of residents of Marathon County have demanded that books that they say contain “pornographic materials” be removed from the public library system and that the composition of the Library Board reflect “both sides.”
During a meeting of the Library Board of the Marathon County Public Library on Sept. 19, a resident said the library is for higher learning, and should not be filled with “sexual stuff.” A Wausau area resident shared the video clip of the Library Board meeting with Wausau Pilot & Review but the meeting was not available in its entirety.
Another speaker said God wanted them to say no to these books. “And God says, and we are a Christian community here, and these are the things that we have to learn to say no to, despite the whole idea of free speech and all the rest of the stuff,” he said. He added that God gave them a moral code and they “have to abide by that” to abide by “moral and Christian values.”
The group has been trying to drum up support for their campaign to ban books by circulating emails and a digital brochure, sharing a list of books they want banned, encouraging people to attend meetings to voice their opposition to these books and writing to their county and state representatives for that purpose.
Marathon County Public Library Director, Leah Giordano, acknowledged the concerns expressed recently by members of the public over specific library materials. “We take the concerns of our community very seriously and address them through our long-standing Complaint Policy for Materials Collection and its associated procedure,” Giordano told the Wausau Pilot & Review. “As of late, we have received several reconsideration forms and are proceeding through this materials review process.”
The director said the MCPL was unable to provide further comment on this matter “until a determination has been made.”
Public libraries in the United States face “unprecedented” efforts to ban books on race and gender themes. In response, some online resources are stepping in to provide teenagers access to these banned books.
American Library Association officials say the number of “attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities and public libraries, is on track to exceed record counts from 2021.” Releasing its preliminary data before its Banned Books Week, the ALA said the attempts to ban books are targeted against marginalized and underrepresented people.
“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience ,” said ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada.
The Marathon County Supervisor from Dist. 25, Tim Sondelski, said he received several emails about the “pornographic” content in the children’s section of the county library. He said a book he checked out was full of “nudity, masturbation and sexual intercourse.” The supervisor said the books also violated the Wisconsin Statute, 948.11, which relates to “exposing a child to harmful material or harmful descriptions or narrations.”
PEN America, an advocacy organization that defends free speech and supports authors facing censorship risks, also noted that book bans have increased in recent times. In response, the group launched a Banned Books Week campaign. Between July 2021 and June 2022, PEN America says, there have been “2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles.”
Some books that county residents and elected officials are demanding be banned from the MCPL are Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, and Flames by Mike Curato, among others. Two of these books – Gender Queer duck Lawn Boy – are on the list of top 10 most challenged books of 2021.
Per MCPL procedure, people are allowed to submit a complaint if they object to any materials in the library.
Stephen Armstrong, a resident, in an email to this newspaper with the subject line ‘Marathon County: Pornography In Our Libraries’, shared content that advises county residents on how to proceed with the campaign to ban “pornographic materials” available in the library. He suggested filling out complaint forms.
But in order to submit such complaints, Armstrong emphasizes, people should read those books first. He listed the titles “that we’ve tackled (with written or illustrated graphic sexual acts). He asked people to attend the Library Board discussion on Sept. 19 and suggested focusing on the five books.
The Armstrong email has a section addressed to county residents on the actions they can take, including sending the complaint forms to the MCPL Director, Leah Giordano, President of the Library Board Sharon Hunter, the two country supervisors on the Library Board – Michelle Van Krey and Gary Gisselman – as well as a copy to their county representative.
“Most adults would deem these books inappropriate – certainly for children and teenagers,” the email reads. “And yet—they’re accessible to our children.” It was not clear whether Armstrong wrote the ‘summary of actions’ himself or whether he was just sharing content from someone else. He did not respond to follow-up questions from Wausau Pilot & Review.
Both at the Sept. 19 meeting and in the email, people calling for book bans reject accusations that their actions defy free speech and First Amendment rights
“This effort is about protecting our children and following state and federal laws. This is NOT about censorship or acting as book-burning radicals,” reads one of the digital brochures being shared around. The Armstrong email says: “For the record, that is inaccurate. Porn pedaled to children is illegal and does not fall under the First Amendment.” He did not respond to questions about the free speech.
However, PEN America has challenged that contention.
“Many Americans may conceive of challenges to books in schools in terms of reactive parents, or those simply concerned after thumbing through a paperback in their child’s knapsack or hearing a surprising question about a novel raised by their child at the dinner table,” the organization writes on its website. “However, the large majority of book bans underway today are not spontaneous, organic expressions of citizen concern. Rather, they reflect the work of a growing number of advocacy organizations that have made demanding censorship of certain books and ideas in schools part of their mission.
Library Board accused of left-wing bias
During the Sept. 19 meeting of the Library Board, the resident who alleged that the library was filled with “sexual stuff” also asked “where are the opposing views against all the gay, gender agenda?” I don’t see proper representation of both sides.”
The email that this newspaper received also refers to the Library Board as “100% left leaning”.
According to MCPL bylaws, the Library Board is composed of seven members appointed by the County Administrator with the approval of the County Board of Supervisors. The Library Board membership also includes one school district administrator of a school district located in whole or in part in the County, and two county board supervisors, according to the rules. The term is for three years.
“We need to encourage (County Administrator) Mr. Leonhard to appoint and vet board members who are concerned about keeping the library free of sexually charged materials for our youth,” the email shared with this newspaper read.
Administrator Lance Leonhard outlined the process to become a member of the MCPL governing body.
“We have an open application process for service on county board committees, commissions, and boards, including the Library Board,” Leonhard told the Wausau Pilot & Review. “Any Marathon County resident can submit an application explaining their interest and qualifications for a particular position and I consider the application when vacancies arise, or terms expire based upon the mission and purpose of the committee.”
The email this newspaper received also said the library receives funding from the county “with no strings attached” and is not accountable to the County Board. It did not explain that assertion.
Threats of funding cuts over books ban surge has also increased nationwide.