What Should Our Children Be Reading? 

For some time, some citizens of Kootenai County have been voicing their concerns over the selection of children’s materials at meetings of the board of trustees of the Community Library Network. Arguing that many books placed in the children’s and teen’s sections of affiliated libraries are harmful to children and serve as part of an effort toward leftist political indoctrination, many want a number of books removed. Ad hoc groups have formed to discuss and coordinate efforts toward the removal of some books from sections of the library meant for young people. This past Thursday, I went to a meeting of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans in which the issue was discussed by one such group, and I was met there with physical copies of some of these objectionable children’s books said to be currently available in the Community Library Network in the children’s or teen’s sections. One such book was Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, which is filled with very graphic descriptions of the sex life of a teenager living as a prostitute. It is classified as Young Adult Fiction, a category meant for children ages 12-18. As the meeting commenced, Marianna Cochran, a local community member who has been vocal about the issue, gave a presentation analyzing objectionable materials such as this book. The themes of these materials range from “anti-police, bisexuality, drug use, gender fluidity, homosexuality, non-binary, occult/witchcraft, racism, rape, sex, & transgenderism.”

According to a pamphlet passed out for the event, that book is not an outlier; “the teen sections [of the Community Library Network and the Coeur d’Alene Public Library] are rife with adult themes and sexually explicit writings.” Likened to pornographic material, it was argued that these books could harm children. Cochran emphasized that her objection to sexual content was as much to straight as to gay sexual content. Saying this, she asked a reporter from the Coeur d’Alene Press, who was attending the meeting, if she had gotten that information down. When the newspaper published an article on the meeting the next day, it omitted her comment which was directed specifically to them, focusing instead on her treatment of LGBTQ+ issues.

It is true that, in addition to sexual content, Cochran objects to the inclusion of some LGBTQ+ content in children’s sections. Stressing that she is “not attacking the LGBTQ+ community or the existence of the North Idaho Pride Alliance,” she explained that she truly was “talking about what’s developmentally appropriate for children.” (She also suggested at one point that certain books be donated by the taxpayer-funded public libraries to the private North Idaho Pride Alliance library.)

The books with LGBTQ+ themes objected to during the presentation were overwhelmingly those geared toward small children. Rather than objecting to the inclusion of such content overall, it was articulated that the objection was to the “indoctrination” and potentially the “grooming” of children as young as five years old via books for young people endorsing transgender ideology. One such book discussed in the presentation was The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish by a drag queen whose stage name is Lil Miss Hot Mess. It is listed as Juvenile Fiction in the Community Library Network. In a video of the author reading the book, meant to be sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.” He exclaims to the intended audience of small children: “I think we might have some drag queens in training on our hands!” This moment was shown to exemplify “indoctrination” and “grooming.” Cochran takes issue in this example specifically with how such books draw impressionable young children in with sparkling colors and mentions of princesses in order to convert them to an ideology, rather than the mere availability of such materials for analysis. “Everyone in this room is a first amendment advocate… We’re talking about children,” she said.

Cochran believes that LGBTQ+ “propaganda” is dangerous to children. Arguing that children are being misled, she referenced The Pants Project, a book available in the Community Library Network which she claims depicts a kid as living “happily ever after” after transitioning. She responded, “We know the truth is transgender kids don't live happily ever after.”

The Materials Selection Policy of the Community Library Network follows the ALA’s Freedom To Read Statement and does not mention a single viable reason for the reconsideration of any content. At the same time, it does state that “any library user who concludes that a specific item does not meet the guidelines set forth in this policy may fill out a Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Material form.” People have filed this form, and it seems doubtful that this ever leads to any change in the status (including section placement) of a book. Based on the fact that the Policy includes no content restrictions, including for the children’s and teen’s sections, it seems impossible that it could be violated by anything, thus apparently rendering the Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Material form a formality. According to Cochran, the whole thing is “a kangaroo court,” as “the same people who let the books in are the judge and jury.”

It has been claimed that the North Idaho Pride Alliance is a special partner of the Community Library Network, but the veracity of this claim is unclear.

Cochran has accused local library staff of actively impressing their biases on readers, citing the makeup of books in prominent display cases as evidence of “this intentionality.”

Cochran’s presentation referenced a citation of anti-communist W. Cleon Skousen’s 1958 assessment of 45 goals of Communism:

24. Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them "censorship" and a violation of free speech and free press.

25. Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.

26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as "normal”, natural, and healthy.

Cochran believes that the recent trends in the issue of library content serve the Communist agenda. She supports this claim with the fact that the current president-elect of the American Library Association (of which the Community Library Network is a member) has reportedly described herself as a “Marxist Lesbian.”

In a recent meeting of the Community Library Network Board of Trustees, director Amy Rodda responded to a pattern of citizens reading out excerpts from objectionable books and then asking how their inclusion in sections for children is defensible. “When we look at the books, we're reviewing the book as a whole, so when a passage is read without context, without knowing the plot of the book or why the book's written, it can be very shocking and provocative but we're always reviewing the item as a whole, so that's, as part of our policy, but then that's also in the state statutes, when, in reverse, when they're reviewing whether things as harmful or not, to minors, it also talks about using things in context and evaluating the work as a whole.”

According to Cochran, few people ever vote for library board members.

Community Library Network board members will be up for reelection in May 2023. Voting is open to all residents of the library district.

While Idaho Code section 18-1515 has a general prohibition on distributing materials harmful to minors, with an emphasis on sexual content potentially similar to that in these books, Idaho Code section 18-1517 provides an exemption for public libraries, such that they might not successfully be prosecuted for the offense. Notably, Idaho House Bill 666, which sought to remove that exemption, passed in the state house earlier this year and died in committee in the senate. Given the new class of senators coming in soon, some have expressed optimism that a similar effort will succeed next year. Opposition to such a bill has largely consisted of arguments that the definition of harm is written too vaguely, that it would infringe upon free speech, and that it could subject librarians to unfair treatment by the law.

The North Idaho Pride Alliance recently hosted a panel discussion and book giveaway called “Banning Books, Erasing Lives.” The description of the event asks, “How can we counter the hysteria and lies that drive these harmful attempts of erasure with understanding and education?”

The following is OPINION: That restricting LGBTQ+ content erases people would seem to rest on the premise that how someone identifies is one with who that person is. As the Bible states in many different ways that each of us is created uniquely and purposefully by God, such as in Ephesians 2:10, many argue that the two premises are inherently in contradiction. As for addressing the charged claims of hysteria, lies, and harm, open dialogue will be necessary for the furtherance of mutual understanding on this divisive issue of the selection of library content for children’s books.