A group of Idaho residents is accusing the Meridian Library of distributing “smut filled pornography” to children.
But library and city officials say the library has a “diverse and inclusive” collection of materials that reflect the interests of the community, and that people should have the right to choose what they read.
Still, they worry as efforts to ban library books swell across the state and nationwide. Just three months ago, the school board in neighboring Nampa voted to remove 23 books from school libraries.
“What concerns me is that this small, really vocal but small, group of kind of authoritarians really wants to decide what everybody in Meridian can read,” said Megan Larsen, the board chair of the Meridian Library District. “And that’s just unacceptable.”
According to social media posts, the group plans to attend the next Meridian library trustees meeting to discuss “sexually explicit material.” One member of the group also threatened to take steps to defund the library district, but in another post, the group said it was not trying to close libraries.
Chelsea Carattini, spokesperson for the Ada County Elections Office, told the Statesman that the office has received “inquiries” about recalling Meridian Library District trustees, but nothing had been filed as of Wednesday.
Idaho Liberty Dogs posts
The Idaho Liberty Dogs posted a flier on Facebook calling Meridian residents to attend a community meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 3, to “stop this madness.”
The Idaho Liberty Dogs are a political group that mobilized against COVID-19 public health measures in 2020 and counter-protested, in June against abortion rights activists and a homeless demonstration near the Capitol.
Phil Reynolds, one of the leaders of the group concerned about library materials, wrote in a Facebook comment after the Aug. 3 meeting that it was “packed” and that the group would “get this garbage out of the hands of children.”
The flier claimed “public libraries across Idaho are being used as taxpayer funded grooming locations to indoctrinate young children and teenagers into the LGBTQ lifestyle.”
It lists five books from the Meridian Library as examples of the “graphic” and “disgusting” pornography: “Captain Underpants,” “Sex is a Funny Word,” “Two Boys Kissing,” “Gender Queer” and “Big Hard Sex Criminals.”
“The Adventures of Captain Underpants” and “Sex is a Funny Word” are children’s books listed in the youth area in the Meridian Library District’s catalog. “Two Boys Kissing” is in the teen area. “Gender Queer” is in the adult section.
An adult graphic novel series called “Sex Criminals” is not available at any Meridian Library locations, though it is available in other libraries in the Treasure Valley, including the Boise Main Library, where it is listed in the adult section.
The book, “Big Hard Sex Criminals” is the hardcover collection that includes the first 10 issues of the series. It doesn’t appear to be available in any local libraries, according to library catalogs.
(Read descriptions of the books at the end of this article.)
Liz Strader, a Meridian City Council member and home-school mother who said she relies heavily on the library, said there are books in the library she would “never” let her kids read, “but adults need to take control, and they need to help them select their books. It is about personal responsibility.”
“The library is a community resource open to all ages,” Strader told the Idaho Statesman by phone. “It has a kids’ section for a reason, and there is an adult section for a reason.”
In a Facebook post on Aug. 8, Reynolds wrote on his personal profile, “Time to defund the Meridian Library Tax District,‘‘ above a news report about a conservative group’s successful attempt in Michigan to defund a small town’s library system over its refusal to ban LGBTQ+ material.
“I took that threat seriously,” Strader said.
In another post on Aug. 8 on the Idaho Liberty Dogs page, Reynolds called Meridian residents to the library trustees meeting next Wednesday, Aug. 17.
“The Board Trustees are also extremely excited and looking forward to hearing from the community, our thoughts on the distribution of graphic and sexually explicit materials to children,” Reynolds wrote. That post, too, was shared by Idaho Liberty Dogs.
Reynolds declined to comment on his efforts to dissolve the library district in a Facebook message to the Statesman.
In a tweet, Strader called on library supporters to attend the meeting, too.
“Our libraries are under attack by extremists who literally want to dissolve the library district,” she wrote.
Process to dissolve library district unclear
Many Idaho cities, including Boise, Nampa, Caldwell, Eagle, Garden City and Middleton, include libraries as part of city government, but some, including Meridian and Kuna, do not.
Voters created the Meridian Library District in 1974 with a ballot measure. A year later, voters elected to tax their properties to pay for it.
The district runs four libraries across the city on a $7 million annual budget, and it anticipates opening another library next year, according to its website. They are:
The Cherry Lane Library at 1326 W. Cherry Lane
The Silverstone Library at 3531 E. Overland Road
The ubBound Library at 722 NE 2nd St.
The Tiny Library at 5159 S. Hillsdale Ave.
The planned Orchard Park Library at 1267 W. Chinden Blvd.
To dissolve a special taxing district, Idaho Code says citizens must petition. The signatures must be from eligible voters who live or own property in the district, and the number of signatures must be at least 25% of the largest number of votes for a trustee in the last library board election.
This law appears in the special taxing district section of Idaho Code, but not in the library district section. Bill Nary, Meridian city attorney, who does not represent the district, said a court decision may be necessary to determine how to dissolve a library district.
The last election for Meridian Library District Trustees was May 2021. According to Ada County election results, Tyler Ricks received the most votes, 626. Twenty-five percent of 626 is 156½ votes.
The petition must then be filed with the Ada County clerk, and the Ada County commissioners would hold a hearing. If the petition passes the commissioners, the county would schedule and run the election.
If the measure passed, the property and assets of the library district would pass into the county’s hands.
Idaho Legislature concerned about ‘harmful’ library materials
The push to remove books from schools and libraries has been ramping up for months in states across the country.
The American Library Association said in an April news release that library staffs faced an “unprecedented number of attempts to ban books.” The organization said the books that were most targeted were those about Black or LGBTQ people.
Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers raised concerns about certain books in libraries and attempted to pass legislation that would have held libraries liable for distributing “harmful” materials to minors. That bill passed the House but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.
Lawmakers did hold up the budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries, though it cleared both chambers after multiple attempts and millions of dollars in cuts. House and Senate lawmakers also announced the creation of working groups to study children’s access to “harmful” materials in libraries.
A few months after the session ended, the Nampa school board voted to remove a list of nearly two dozen books from school libraries. The decision was made before the district completed a review process that involved forming committees to study each book.
School districts in the Treasure Valley told the Statesman earlier this year that they had received few requests to reconsider library books in their collections over the past five years. Some hadn’t received any.
Larsen said that during her eight years as a trustee in the Meridian Library District, the library had completed four requests for reconsideration. Two additional requests have since been submitted and are being processed, though the requests – one of which lists two books and one with three – include one of the same books, and one that has gone through the process already. Requests are researched by library staff and reach the board only when there is an appeal.
“The library takes those requests very seriously. We’re not willy nilly pulling things out of the collection,” Larsen said. “It is a First Amendment issue to have access to materials. So it takes some time to work through the process.”
‘The library has touched so many lives’
Strader home-schools her two children and said she relies on the library for its educational resources. She has spoken with poor people about how the Meridian Library pulled them out of poverty with its resources.
“The library has touched so many lives,” she said.
Libraries provide a number of services, including access to computers and internet, story times for children, home delivery services, ASL programs and meeting spaces, Larsen said.
Larsen said it’s important that people in the community have access to a wide variety of books so they can both learn about the experiences of others and find books that mirror their own lives. Librarians are strong believers in the First Amendment and the freedom to “read and access information about any topic … without interference,” she said.
“I’m super confident that my fellow Meridian citizens can choose the books for themselves and their families that fit with their values,” she said. “I have no doubt that they can make those good choices. They’ve been doing that for decades.”
Over the past five years, the Meridian Library has had two million visits and seven million checkouts. Checkouts are higher than they have ever been, Larsen said.
“Of course, I’m concerned,” she said. “But I know that we are well-used and well-loved.”
The Wednesday, Aug. 17 meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Library.
What are the 5 challenged books about?
“The Adventures of Captain Underpants” is a series of illustrated children’s novels about two fourth-graders who hypnotize their principal into becoming a superhero they created in one of their own comics.
The book and series have made the the American Library Association’s list of top 10 most-challenged books several times over the past two decades, because they were “perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior” and included “offensive language” and violence. One book in the series also included a same-sex couple.
“Sex is a Funny Word” is a children’s comic book that features families of different gender identities and sexual orientations. It is intended to be a resource for families who want to “talk with their kids about sex and sexuality in a positive, loving, inclusive and joyful way,” the book said.
“Two Boys Kissing” is a novel based on a true story about two teenagers who want to break the record for the longest kiss: 32 hours. The book, whose description on Overdrive.com says is “narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS,” delves into topics including gender identity and coming out.
“Gender Queer,” an autobiography from Maia Kobabe, has become controversial in other states for what people say are inappropriate and graphic images.
Kobabe, who uses “e” and “em” pronouns, said in an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine that e was inspired to create the novel after having “frustrating” conversations with people when e first came out as nonbinary and was trying to express what gender meant to em. Kobabe described the book as a “long letter to my parents and extended family” to help them understand.
“Sex Criminals” is a comic book series where the main characters are able to freeze time when they achieve orgasm and use their power to rob banks.