Last month, Christine Gaiter spoke at a Wellington library board meeting advocating for 19 titles to be moved off the public shelves. She said that this these books were pornographic, and that they shouldn’t accessible by children — even though the majority of the books listed were shelved in the adult fiction section. She went on to claim that the library was acting as an adult entertainment business under the town’s land use code by carrying these materials.
The titles, which Gaiter found on an online list of books being challenged in public school libraries elsewhere, include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. She said that by carrying these books, “The library is not being inclusive of my Christian ethics” and that the library shouldn’t “endorse children to read pornography without a parent’s permission.”
Several of the books challenged, including Speak, deal with sexual assault. Several people at the meeting spoke up about their own experiences with sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts, and how they found refuge in the books available at the library.
The only library board member to speak in favor of the ban was Jon Gaiter, Christine Gaiter’s husband.
The board didn’t just refuse to ban or restrict access to these books, though. They went one step further to prevent this from happening again. They voted 5-2 — one trustee abstained, which was counted as a no, and the other no vote was Jon Gaiter — to pass a resolution that the board cannot “censor, suppress, remove, monitor or place age restrictions on ideas or information in our public library,” effectively banning book bans.
Libraries already employ professionals who spend years gaining the expertise to determine which materials are appropriate to carry and in which section of the library. As for what will happen if Wellington residents want to challenge books in the future, that information is not yet available. Theoretically, residents could challenge materials directly with the library and have library professionals and other stakeholders review it instead of the board.
As book bans and challenges continue to rise exponentially, primarily targeting LGBTQ-inclusive and racially diverse books as well as sex education books, Wellington offers a new strategy to combatting them. It will be interesting to see if other boards follow suit, and if so, what will happen next.