After a lengthy discussion on whether a library can reconsider or ban a book, the Crawford County Library Board voted to take action on one of four books in the library’s collection challenged by citizens during Tuesday’s (March 14) library board meeting in Van Buren.
The board voted unanimously to move “The Last Leaves Falling” by Sarah Benwell from the young adult/teen section to the adult section in the system’s libraries. The book’s description states that a teen grapples with ALS and his decision to die in this debut novel infused with Japanese poetry and the importance of friendship.
The book was challenged by Thomas Weitzel because it deals with a teenager and suicide. Weitzel said the “troubling” subject matter is not appropriate for children or adults. Weitzel said he would not support merely moving the book to the adult section because children could still access it and not every child has parents monitoring what they read.
Gentry Wahlmeier, attorney for the library board, cautioned board members about removing a book from the library, noting that while Arkansas state law requires libraries to have a book reconsideration policy, the U.S. Supreme Court says books cannot be reconsidered for their content.
“So it’s a ban on book banning,” Wahlmeier said.
The board voted to move the book to the adult section. Weitzel then said he would withdraw his challenge of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and the DVD of the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
A fourth challenge, of “Change” was not voted on because the person who challenged it was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
The board was also set to discuss changing basic criteria for assessing which books are selected for the library’s collection, a motion which was tabled at the Jan. 10 meeting. The board again tabled the motion. Library Board Director Tammi Hamby said while reading through the policy that sections of the policy manual referred to other sections, so the whole manual needed to be reviewed before any revisions were made.
The policy revision and book challenges all stemmed from controversy in the library that led to the former Crawford County Library Board Director Deidre Grzymala to resign with a $40,687.50 severance deal Feb. 21.
The controversy began in November when Hamby and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Hamby, a Van Buren family physician, spearheaded a campaign against LBGQT+ books being available through the Crawford County Library System and Grzymala’s book display of LBGQT+ children’s books set up at the Van Buren Public Library in November. Hamby was appointed to the Crawford County Library Board by Crawford County Judge Chris Keith and named the board chair after Jamie Balkman, former chair, and two other board members resigned after a contentious Quorum Court meeting in December.
Eva White was appointed interim director during a special called meeting Feb. 24. White was the library director for Crawford County from 1999 to 2012 and then again from 2013 to January 2021. She said she retired during the COVID pandemic at a time when she was experiencing knee problems. She has since had two knee replacements and is “ready to go back to work.”
“We have heard you. Each one of has expressed your agenda,” White said. “My agenda is to run this library as I have run it for years before. I want this to be your library.”
Several individuals attending Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern over removing books from the library. Some pointed out laws that protect books from being banned from public libraries. Some mentioned the Bible and the controversial content in it, noting it might someday be the next book banned. Some said that the ones hurt by limited resources in the library were those who could not afford to get books elsewhere.
“Think about what you do. Banning books only hurts ourselves,” said Sharron Herrick.