Huntington Beach could soon have a new process for deciding what enters their public libraries as one city councilwoman proposes the creation of an appointed panel to rule what’s appropriate for public consumption.
The proposal comes three months after city council members said they needed to better define what was “obscene” at their public libraries amidst concerns that children were accessing sexual material that was improperly stored at the city libraries.
The initiative faced a strong pushback at the time and currently is facing big questions from many residents saying it’s an effort to ban books the council’s Republican majority objects to.
City Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark is spearheading the proposal, insisting there are sexually explicit books in the children’s section that need to be removed for their safety and that it isn’t an effort to ban any books.
“We’re not banning a single book. What we’re saying is if the content is too sexually graphic, move it to the adults section,” Van Der Mark said in a Monday interview. “They can still have access if the parents deem it’s appropriate.”
There have only been five books challenged by residents in the last five years according to a city staff presentation, with one of the challenges coming from Van Der Mark herself.
Her proposal would set up a council-appointed board with as many as 21 members who could review new books librarians want to purchase and decide if they should be in the kids section or be allowed in the library at all, and can also pull up existing books in the catalog and reassign them.
When asked if the panel’s power to stop librarians from purchasing books constitutes a ban, Van Der Mark said it’s the same ability librarians have exercised for years when they choose what books to fill the public library with.
“Some may be ok for the adult section, and some might just not be a good fit for our library. Librarians pick and choose books all the time, they don’t adopt every book that’s published,” Van Der Mark said. “Are librarians book banners? They reject books all the time.”
The Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library, a nonprofit that helps fundraise for the library, say Van Der Mark’s proposal is a book ban.
“We believe that individuals have the right to decide what books they choose to read for themselves and their families,” the group wrote in a letter on their website. “No individual or government appointed committee has a right to decide what you and your family are allowed to read.”
Van Der Mark also said they’d been contacted by elected leaders in other cities, including Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, about the details of their proposal, but declined to state who reached out.
“We are spearheading this and other cities are looking, actually other cities have already reached out and said they want to know what you’re doing,” she said. “A lot of cities are scared to take the first step because they don’t want to be accused of being book banners.”
So far, public feedback from Surf City residents has been mixed, with some praising the city council for taking actions to shield children from obscene materials.
“I support our Mayor Pro‐tem and our newly elected City Council in removing pornographic material and books from our public libraries,” wrote resident Lynn Unger to the council. “Parents not liberal librarians should have the final say in protecting our children.”
Others claim it’s a solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist, calling it an attempt to remove content the council majority disagrees with.
“The Councilwoman’s contention is that there are ‘pornographic’ books in the children’s section of the library,” wrote David Rynerson. “One of the books targeted in the presentation is ‘Grandad’s Pride’, a story about a girl who finds a Pride flag in her grandfather’s attic, leading the two of them to organize a Pride parade in their town. Please explain what is pornographic about this book.”
Van Der Mark’s proposal also comes just over three weeks after a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that blocks school boards from removing or restricting books in public schools that teach about diverse communities.
“We’re living in a country right now in this banning binge, this cultural purge that we’re experiencing all throughout America, and now increasingly here in the state of California, where we have school districts large and small banning books, banning free speech, criminalizing librarians and teachers,” Newsom said in a video posted to X.
“This is long overdue and this banning binge has to come to an end.”
The city is currently in multiple lawsuits with the state over their rejected housing plan, and have been threatened with a lawsuit over newly proposed voter ID laws.
There has not yet been any threat from the state regarding the book bans, but Van Der Mark said it’s a risk the city was willing to take.
“Are we concerned there may be lawsuits? Yes, but we’re prioritizing the safety and welfare of our children,” Van Der Mark said. “We can’t live in fear of a dictatorial government coming and bullying us constantly.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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