The director of a Minnesota library system is defending her decision to keep a sexually graphic children’s book on the shelves, saying it would be “censorship” to remove the title and open up the library to lawsuits.
An estimated 100 people gathered in Cambridge, Minn., Aug. 8 for a meeting of the East Central Regional Library Board of Directors, which for months has been navigating a controversy regarding “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a children’s book co-authored by a Planned Parenthood alumna that includes illustrations of people having sex, masturbating and performing other sexual activities.
Nancy Grossman, a retired public school teacher, has been leading the charge against “It’s Perfectly Normal” and had the chance to present her case at last week’s meeting.
“It appears to be a picture book, but it has page after page of graphic illustrations with male and female nudity,” she told the board. “Children who still need to be reminded to wash their hands after using the bathroom are reading in this book about masturbation and anal sex.”
“Why doesn’t the library, like the parents who pay taxes to support it, want to protect children’s innocence?” she added. “This book assaults that protection.”
There are six copies of the book within the library system, which includes 14 locations across eastern Minnesota. Grossman said she and her supporters are asking the library to keep books “with adult sexual content” in the “adult area of the library.”
“I’m not challenging the library’s ‘right to read’ policy nor do I advocate for book banning. I am asking ECRL to refrain from contributing to the sexualization of children who visit your library,” she said. “Adults protect children. They don’t groom children to participate in adult sexual acts.”
Executive Director Carla Lyndon defended her decision to keep the book in the library, saying it doesn’t meet the definition of “pornographic” or “obscene material.”
“This is not child pornography. This depicts acts among adults; it is not children. Child pornography would be sex among children, or children and adults,” she said.
According to Grossman, the book contains pictures of a girl and boy masturbating.
Lyndon argued the chances of an unsuspecting child seeing the book are very small since there are hundreds of books in the children’s section.
“There’s a lot of things that a child might see in the library. The library is a public place. Parents have the responsibility … of supervising their children, not the library,” she said. “Please don’t expect the library to parent your children.”
She also pushed back on claims that the book is “grooming children,” citing its chapters on child abuse and consent.
“The professionals in this organization with many decades of combined professional experience have placed this title on our shelves in our juvenile collection where it’s been for almost a decade,” Lyndon continued, criticizing opponents of the book for referencing “a lone negative review from an individual with known associations to an anti-LGBT group.”
“It aligns with our collection development policy and strategic plan to embrace diversity,” she added.
Lyndon doesn’t want to compromise by moving the book to the adult section of the library (opponents initially wanted it removed completely). She said this would be “problematic” because “young people who may need this title may have a harder time finding it.”
Plus, parents would “have to look harder for material that may support a more diverse view of human sexuality.”
“Finally, the compromise would indeed be censorship. Let me just be clear and honest: any suppression of ideas and information that individuals, groups, or government officials find objectionable or dangerous is an act of censorship,” Lyndon said.
“Youth have a First Amendment right as well. Making a change to where this title is located would likely open the library up to lawsuits. They are happening all over the country,” she concluded.
Lyndon said she has asked staff at the Chisago Lakes location, where the complaint originated, to reorganize the children’s section to help the public better understand the intended age groups for the material.
But the library board will ultimately have the final say. It has convened a “reconsideration committee” to discuss the book and present the board with a recommendation in September. The board will then have 10 days to make a decision.