If it takes a village to raise a child, how does it decide what books should be on shelves?

The Wellington town board recently voted to, in essence, ban all book bans in the town's public library.

This came after resident Christine Gaiter asked the Board of Trustees in August to remove 19 books from the shelves of the public library and put them where children would not be able to access them without permission from an adult.

Instead of deciding to remove or restrict books, the board later approved, by 5-2, a resolution stipulating that the board cannot "censor, suppress, remove, monitor or place age restrictions on ideas or information in our public library."

So we put a question to our Coloradoan Conversations community: Should Wellington's ban on book bans be a model for other Colorado libraries?

The conversation on that question and comments on the Coloradoan's reporting about the issue explored a few of these underlying concerns:

How does a community decide what is harmful?

Gaiter's request was in response to sexual content in the books, such as "Fifty Shades of Gray," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Bluest Eye."

"My issue is that these books go into too much graphic detail of a sexual act," she said. "They are not appropriate for children. The library should be a safe place for families and kids."

But other commenters felt there was potential for a double-standard or a slippery slope.

"Should the Bible be included in the ban?" Bob W. asked, citing:

  • Reference Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon in the Bible.

  • Note the adult theme in Proverbs 5:19 of the Bible.

  • Also note that the word “rape” is mentioned nine times in the Bible."

"Dr. Seuss is being banned all over the country. ... 'To Kill A Mockingbird' was banned in school districts in Washington and California. The Bible hasn’t been seen in public schools in decades. ... Anyone complaining about parents trying to sort out what reading material is age appropriate in a public school library might want to see if they have a double standard," Andy O. said.

Striking a middle ground, Dylan J. noted, "We should ... all be careful to delineate between calls to ban particular books and calls to restrict access to books based on criteria like age. There are good arguments for restricting a child's access to materials that should be available freely to adults. For example, I worked at a bookstore where we would buy used books from the public for resale. We would regularly buy books that were immediately put in a locked case and which minors could not peruse without parental approval. ... However, when someone argues, 'The library is not being inclusive of my Christian ethics' and therefore certain works ought to be age-restricted based on that alone, you can see how untenable and risible the argument is. For instance, what if a Jehovah's Witness argued from the same premise to restrict access to books on blood transfusions? Or an Orthodox Jew wanting to restrict nonkosher cookbooks? Public libraries are for the interest of the public writ large, not special interests."

How to handle parental rights and parental styles?

"At what point do the parents get to invoke their parental rights?" Andy O. asked.

"Whenever their kids want to check out books from the public library," Michael D. responded. "This has nothing to do with anyone being forced or even asked to read a book. There are 19 books that a vocal minority wanted removed from the public library. If parents don't want their kids reading these books, that's 100% up to them."

Amid all the views about book restrictions were calls for respect of different parenting styles.

"The library is not being inclusive of my Christian ethics," Gaiter explained at one of the meetings. "There are Christians in this town that think like me. You don't have to agree with us, but I do ask that you respect us and include our views in your decision-making process."

On the flip side, Deborah F. said, "Trying to dictate which reading materials should be readily available for others is absolutely unacceptable."

"If a parent has an issue with their child’s reading materials, perhaps they should accompany them to the library, or restrict their child’s account," she said.

"Logically, one would think that parents should make decisions based on family values," k._k. said. "I appreciate this library conversation because as a parent, I want to know what's happening in our tax taxpayer-funded libraries. Unfortunately, our state and school have laws and edicts which undermine parents," noting health care and school policies that give children decision-making abilities without parental intervention or consent.

So who bears responsibility for taking actions?

Whether parents or institutions bear more responsibility for regulating content is a question, though most commenters focused on one party rather than both:

"I think the only thing Mrs. Gaiter was asking for is the same regulation you see with movie theaters and such, which I have a tendency to agree. Books that illustrate sexual acts, nudity, etc. should be clearly identified and possibly moved to more of an adult section of the library and not mixed in with general books children have access to," Michael Scott S. said. "If folks don't see an issue with having these kind of books readily available to underage children, then why is Playboy, Penthouse, etc. not available at a library or put out in public view in stores? Because society made a moral decision those kind of materials and illustrations should not be in public view and readily available for underage viewing."

But, "there isn’t "Fifty Shades of Gray" in the toddler section," Briana H. noted.

"At some point, people need to realize that professionals who have studied for years at institutions of higher learning should be allowed to do their jobs," Harry S. said. "Let librarians decide what books belong in a library. Let physicians decide what medical treatments are appropriate. Let biologists decide what is best for the environment. These experts can consider 'public' opinions when making decisions. ... If you don’t want your children to read these books, tell your children, not everybody’s children, that you don’t think the books are appropriate for them."

Or, he said, read the books alongside them:

"Like my mother before me, I spent a great deal of time when my children were young reading a ton of literature I had absolutely no interest in reading. Like my mother, I spent my free time doing this because it was my responsibility as a parent to be aware of what my children were reading. This was time well spent. It allowed me to discuss the books with them. It allowed me to mitigate possible problems I knew could arise with my extremely sensitive children by several books assigned to them in school. It was my job to oversee what my children read. ... It may take a village to raise a child, but each child is different and deciding what each individual child can and can not read should be the responsibility of that child's parents and nobody else."

"An easy solution may be to just keep your kids in the children’s section of the library," Carl C. suggested.

But Craig Z. wondered about the feasibility, especially if you have two children perusing different parts of the library at once, "when age-sensitive materials are intermixed with others, is it actually feasible to hover over the child, perhaps grabbing a book out of his/her hand in order to vet it?"

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Wellington library access issue sparks conversation on responsibility