FAIRHOPE — Monday's Fairhope Public Library Board meeting may have broken attendance records as residents on both sides of a book debate that has been dominating Fairhope City Council meetings …
FAIRHOPE — Monday's Fairhope Public Library Board meeting may have broken attendance records as residents on both sides of a book debate that has been dominating Fairhope City Council meetings since Sept. 11 converged.
The room that was lined with seats quickly filled. As the 4 p.m. start time approached, additional visitors tried to find a place to stand and were asked to stand in the hallway, with doors propped open, due to fire occupancy levels.
Before the open discussion period, library Director Tamara Dean explained the process the library uses to select books and how they handle reconsideration submissions. She also read through the list of books members of the Faith, Family, Freedom Coalition of Baldwin County have asked to be reviewed and removed from the teen section.
In the last 120 days, the library has received 14 reconsideration submissions, each of which included multiple books. Each submission included several titles. At the Sept. 11 Fairhope City Council meeting, Dean said the total number of books the library was asked to reconsider was over 50.
On Monday, she noted the list was reduced to 35 books after she took out titles that are already located in the adult library. Of the 35, 14 have been checked out 10 or more times since arriving on the shelves. Dean noted that many of the books have been checked out in the last 120 days since the debate began. Some books in question feature LGBTQ people and families, while others feature topics of sex and race. (The two page list is available in the photo section of this story).
"Full disclosure, I haven't read any of this material, nor will I," said Andy Parvin, the library board's vice chairman. "I am a parent. My kids are much older, but if they were pre-teens or teenagers would I endorse them reading this? Probably not. But that is me. Our library's charter, like all library charters, are to serve the entire public, our entire community, taxpayers and all the cardholder clients. What I find inappropriate, other people are finding value in this material.
"Again, (the library has) 83,000 items of content, and these are about 30 books. If you sum it all up, they haven't been taken out 500 times in 15 years. This isn't material I would normally read, but it does provide value to a small segment of our community, and we owe it to the community. That is what a library does; it provides services to the entire community."
Parvin concluded his comment by saying, "If you pick up a book and you find it objectionable, put it down."
During the open discussion period, more than 10 residents spoke, including a local pediatrician, a retired Methodist minister, a retired English teacher, local lawyer and leader of the Faith, Family, Freedom Coalition of Baldwin County Brian Dasinger and two other residents who have spoken during recent city council meetings.
Approximately 12 people spoke during the open comment period, and more spoke in support of the library and keeping books available to readers. Those in support of the library said it is up to parents to determine what their children are reading and if it is appropriate.
Those in support of removing the books presented the same talking points they have at city council meetings, which boil down to removing books they view as obscene, sexually explicit and inappropriate and moving them to the adult section.
Fairhope pediatrician Jennifer Walker, a mother of two, said advocating for children in the community is part of her job and that while advocating means different things to different people, everyone wants a safe space for children to grow. Walker said she has been bringing her children to the library since they were very young, and she has never seen anything she felt was inappropriate in the children's section.
Regarding the books in question in the teen section, Walker said, "It is insulting and infantilizing to the capacity that teenagers have for complex thought suggesting teenagers can't handle the materials that are in the teen section. A 4-year-old that has two mommies deserves to be able to find books that have illustrations they can see that reflect their family, and a 16-year-old that is gay or transgender deserves to be able to use the teen section of the library as a resource for trusted information. The library has to be a safe space for these children as well."
At the end of her comments, Walker quoted Thomas Jefferson.
"Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, and education and free discussion are the antidote."
Walker continued, "And the government limiting what we are able to read is the purview of fascist and communist dictatorships; it is not what we do in a democracy, and we should be cautious of giving up our freedom even in small amounts."
Dasinger, an attorney in Fairhope, started his comments with the case of Miller vs. California, a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case.
"The Miller Standard is whether an average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, 'taken as a whole,' appeals to 'prurient interest,' whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offense way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and whether the work, 'taken as a whole,' lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value," Dasinger said.
Dasinger and other members of the coalition have repeatedly asked Fairhope City Council, Mayor Sherry Sullivan and the library board to go into the library and read the books they have concerns about, even though Dasinger admitted he has not read any of the books his group is questioning, only excerpts on www.booklooks.org.
The BookLooks.org LLC was created by Jonathan and Emily Maikisch in Florida in April 2022 and has been a source for book banning and book review debates in multiple states. According to an article in USA Today, researchers, library experts and a USA Today analysis determined the attempt to remove book titles in over a dozen states directly cited BookLooks.org reviews, much like the Fairhope debate.
Dasinger also addressed Parvin's comments about the number of times the books in question had been checked out and said the number of times is not the point.
"The point is these are tax-funded dollars that are being spent to buy all the books for our library, and we as a whole, as the library board and as a community, need to protect our children from this kind of thing. They should not have access to it," Dasinger said.
He said his group's goal is to have the books moved to the adult section, not banned.
"I believe and my group believes in the First Amendment. We would never ban books, so please do not misquote me," Dasinger said. "We want to move books that we feel do not meet the Miller Test from the children's section to the adult section. That is all we are asking for."
If books were to be moved to the adult section, those under the age of 18 would not have open access to them and would have to ask to see them.
Library leadership gave no specific timeline for a decision but said they are in the process of reviewing the books to determine if they go against library policy.