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A FIGHT AGAINST CENSORSHIP: THE ASHLAND PUBLIC LIBRARY DEBATE CONTINUES

Updated: Aug 14

BY SUSAN CLEWELL



For the third month in a row, the Ashland Public Library’s Board meeting was wrought with controversy. In May, new books appeared on the shelves as they often do, but this time, the books in question covering subjects like menstruation, puberty, how babies are made, and the LGBTQ+ community drew ire from religious leaders. Pastor John Bouquet from Bethel Baptist Church led the charge calling on the Ashland County Ministerial Association to intervene. In a document obtained by the Ashland Source Bouquet outlines the goals of the “Protect the Children” Campaign and the steps they’ll take if the library board does not agree to remove, or at least relocate, the books in question. A quote from Proverbs is included and clearly shows the superiority they feel in deciding this issue for the whole of the community regardless of stark differences in opinion: “When the wicked increase, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.”


Thankfully, Pastor Hylden from First Presbyterian Church in Ashland came to refute Pastor Dave McNeely’s (acting president of the Ashland County Ministerial Association) earlier claims that these books were pornographic and “may be interpreted as grooming children for transgenderism and pedophilia.” Hylden said, “child pornography is a deep tragedy whose gravity ought not be lessened by association with the content of these books”. Hylden’s statement, given on behalf of 8 members of the clergy from Ashland churches, reiterates that Bouquet and ACMA’s stance is extremist and does not even represent the whole of the Christian community.


Sandra Hedlund Tunnell, library board president, listened to statements on both sides, and she held firm that 3 of the books (Making a Baby, Own Your Period, and Puberty is Gross) will remain in the children’s nonfiction section for now. Wonderful Women of the World was mistakenly placed in the children’s section and was reshelved in the adult section shortly after arrival. This is Our Rainbow is not a book that is owned by the Ashland Public Library, but was on loan through the interlibrary loan system. And another controversial text, It’s Perfectly Normal, is only available as an ebook. A glance at the library’s online catalog shows the location of each item in Ashland and also the call number and location of these same books in at least 20 other libraries that are part of Ashland’s consortium. It is not surprising to see that the call numbers and locations are virtually identical across all locations. This is because librarians are professionals who do not place books on the shelves impulsively. They follow standard practices that have been established over a century of study and experience, just like doctors, teachers, and lawyers. And in this case, the mission of the Ashland Public Library is to “[affirm] the individual rights of patrons to free and open access to library materials and services and its role as a protector of intellectual freedom in a free society.”


Over and over again, members of the community reiterated that they trust the professionals of the library board to make these decisions. Spreading conspiracies and misinformation leads to a society in which people can’t define what is true and what isn’t and unravels the fabric of our democracy and our ability to work together as a community. Richland County Dems were proud to stand with the Ashland County Democrats and the Ashland County Public Library against this religious extremism, and we will continue to do so in coming elections.


Links:

News Channel 5 Cleveland - Children's Books in Ashland Sparking Debate

Ashland Source article - Ashland Public Library Debate Surrounding Books Continues

WMFD article and video -Ashland Public Library Debate Continues

Ashland Source - video of meeting

Justin Hylden - clergy statement of support

Ashland Public Library Mission Statement - Collection Development Policy


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