Alpena County demands answers over controversial books at library

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Commissioner Robin LaLonde, left, County Administrator Jesse Osmer, Commissioner Travis Konarzewski, and Commissioner Bill Peterson chat after reviewing some books from the Alpena County Library on Friday. The books contained material that they said shocked them.

ALPENA — Images of naked men and women and drawings of sexual intercourse are included in books in both the adolescent and teen sections at the Alpena County Library, a News review of the books confirmed this week.

Now, the Alpena County Board of Commissioners, which appoints library board members, is getting involved to try to get the books relocated or removed from the library.

Several Alpena County commissioners reviewed the controversial books on Friday and called their content disgusting, shocking, and alarming.

County Administrator Jesse Osmer was instructed to see what options the county board has in its appointment process and if it would be legal for them to remove all the members of the library board and appoint new members.

“I feel like, as a board, if we can’t come to terms with them on this, then maybe these people should be replaced,” Commissioner Travis Konarzewski said.

Library board President Joe Garbor said the library is currently working on its book reconsideration policy to make it more defined, but the process isn’t finished, yet.

“The policy we have isn’t perfect, but we are rewriting it,” he said. “Right now, we are being pulled in many different directions, and we want to redo it once and get it right.”

The News this week viewed two books from the library, one from the adolescent section and another from the teen section. Much of the books’ text and images were deemed too graphic to include in this news story.

The book “Let’s Talk About It” is placed in the teen section. It features subject matter and visuals that some could say exceed content from an R-rated movie, which young teens can’t view in a movie theater. In a comic book style, the book discusses and visualizes material such as masturbation, pornography, kinks, and other sexual topics.

In the adolescent section, a book titled “It’s Perfectly Normal” — the cover of which says is suitable for ages 10 and older — covers topics like hygiene, puberty, childbirth, and a host of other topics that are not controversial. The book also has a large section dedicated to various sex acts, which includes pictures of male and female genitalia, images of males and females masturbating, and straight and gay men and women in bed nude in sexual positions.

According to Library Board President Joe Garbor, the teen section is for youth ages 12 to 17 and the juvenile section is meant for kids up to 11. He said the juvenile section is broken up into two sections for younger and older kids.

During a county board meeting on Tuesday, eight people expressed concern about the content in several books in youth sections of the library that they believed are not age-appropriate.

Some of the commissioners who reviewed the books on Friday said the books have no right to be in the library where kids or young teens can easily acquire them, but they were open to having the books placed in a better-suited location in the facility.

Other commissioners said the books are so graphic they should be removed all together.

Commissioner Robin LaLonde said the questionable content in the two books far exceeded what she anticipated seeing, and it angered her.

“I was horrified when I looked at it, especially when I saw that the book ‘It’s Perfectly Normal’ was for kids 10 and up,” she said. “I’m not for censorship, but I am for age censorship. These books should be behind the counter and an 18-year-old should have to be with a child or teen to check them out or even to view them.”

“To be honest, I was embarrassed to be looking at them with other people in the room,” Konarzewski said. “I never expected to see what I just saw. This is certainly nothing I will allow my children to look at, and my two youngest are 15 and 13 years old. In my opinion, these books need to be behind a counter, at least.”

Commissioner Bill Peterson said he was shocked by the graphic content in the books and said the material and visuals would not be something he would want to fall into the hands of his grandchildren. He said he is against banning books, but believes they should be relocated to another section of the library or placed behind a counter.

“Kids are going to go into the library and go where they want if they’re not supervised,” Peterson said. “All you have to do is look at some of the pictures in here and I think most people would agree.”

Garbor, the library board president, said the library has had several books challenged this year, including the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” but no action was taken on them after the review process. He admitted he had not read the book that was challenged or reviewed the two books reviewed by The News.

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” has few illustrations and is many hundreds of pages long and was not reviewed by The News.

Garbor said that, in addition to library policy, the library depends on consultants and an attorney from the Library of Michigan for guidance.

“We need to follow some sort of professional guidelines,” he said.

During Tuesday’s county board meeting, the commissioners said they intend to invite some library board members and staff to further address the issue at the county board’s Facilities, Capital, and Strategic Planning Committee meeting at 9 a.m. June 19. That meeting is open to the public.

Peterson said he hopes some sort of compromise can be found before the Aug. 6 election, when voters in Alpena County will vote on a property tax renewal for library operations.

With the blessing of commissioners, the library is seeking a 0.7462-mill, 10-year renewal of the property tax that funds library operations and maintenance. The tax would generate about $842,000 for the library in its first year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $38 a year.

Garbor said he isn’t sure how the ongoing issue about the books will impact the vote later this summer.

“Of course I’m concerned,” he said. “But there is no way to tell which side is the majority between those who have an issue with the books and want them moved and those who want them to stay where they are.”


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