Pastors, others circulate petition for ‘age-appropriate’ standards at Alpena County Library

News Photo by Temi Fadayomi Alpena County Library volunteer Bradley Crevier organizes children’s books on the second floor of the library on Friday.

ALPENA — Alpena joins a national trend as community members circulate a petition calling for the introduction of “age-appropriate” standards for books at the Alpena Public Library.

The petition claims that continued financial support of the library from the petition signers is contingent upon the library’s establishment of community-approved standards, as well as accountability from the library that officials there will maintain those standards.

Maj. Prezza Morrison, of the Salvation Army of Alpena, a signer of the petition, argues that the establishment of those standards would be beneficial, regardless of one’s ultimate position on what is or isn’t appropriate, because the standards would allow for open community input on what they want “age-appropriate” to mean.

“We just feel that it would be good if the library had some guidelines on what they consider age-appropriate material and how the community can have an input on that,” Morrison said. “It kind of helps both sides. Hopefully, it’ll bring us unity and we can sit together and discuss what we consider is appropriate.”

Library officials could not be reached for comment on this story.

The county library is funded in part by nearly 1 mill of property tax, according to online records of the Alpena County Equalization Department. Those taxes cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $50 a year.

The library expects to collect about $1.1 million this year from property taxes, according to a copy of the library budget available at the library’s website.

Joe Collins, the pastor at Shoreline Church on River Street in Alpena, said the idea for the petition came from several discussions with his wife, other local pastors, and other concerned members of the community regarding the books that their kids bring home from and are exposed to at the library.

“We just started checking into it and realizing that any child walking up would see those books and then be exposed to things that, if somebody gave those books to our kids on the street, they would be called groomers and people who are preparing kids for sexual exploits,” Collins said.

One book at the library that Collins called inappropriate is “Making a Baby,” by Rachel Greener, found in the Juvenile Easy Nonfiction section of the library.

In a document listing several other books that Collins and his wife consider inappropriate, “Making a Baby” is accused of depicting “grooming techniques” because of a scene in the book featuring “naked adult men next to children in the same locker room showering and changing together.”

The petition thrusts Alpena into an ongoing national conversation about which books belong where in public and school libraries, or if certain books belong in those libraries at all.

Bannings and attempted bannings of books soared again in the U.S. last year, continuing to set record highs, according to a recent report from the American Library Association.

Earlier this month, the Library Association announced that 4,240 works in school and public libraries had been targeted in 2023, a substantial hike from the then-record 2,571 books in 2022 and the most the library association has tallied since it began keeping track more than 20 years ago.

As in recent years, many of the books being challenged — 47% — have LGBTQ and racial themes.

The number of separate challenges recorded by the Library Association, 1,247, is actually down by 22 from last year. But efforts to challenge dozens or even hundreds of books at a time have surged in Florida and Texas, among other states, reflecting the influence of organizations such as Moms for Liberty and websites such as booklooks.org and ratedbooks.org.

“Each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person’s constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement.

Caldwell-Stone said she was especially concerned about the rise in challenges at public libraries, now some 40% of overall challenges — more than double the percentage from 2022.

Morrison, of the Alpena Salvation Army, made clear that the intention of the Alpena petition is not to see any books banned but simply to allow parental input on the kinds of literature to which their children are exposed.

“We don’t want these books to be banned,” Morrison said. “Ultimately, we want the guidelines to come into place and then we can always decide, OK, this is not appropriate for 5-year-olds, where else should we put this in the library?”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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