I will continue to support Alpena’s library

“Adam was but human — this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” — Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson”

I’m no prude.

I believe sex education for young people is important, because we never know what situations in which our children will find themselves, and they ought to know how to be safe. It’s especially important for them to know about consent, that only a sober yes means yes.

I do not believe learning about LGBTQ issues indoctrinates our children. In fact, I believe our children should learn about all kinds of people so they can learn to respect differences and treat people how they ought to be treated.

However, everything has a limit, and the Alpena County Library has crossed that limit by shelving sexually graphic books in the children and teen sections of the library.

The News last week reviewed two such books.

In the teen section, The News found “Let’s Talk About It,” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. The graphic novel includes sections discussing and visualizing masturbation, pornography, kinks, and other sexual topics.

In the adolescent section, The News found “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Roble H. Harris and Michael Emberley. The cover says the book is suitable for ages 10 and older, but the book includes a large section dedicated to various sex acts, including 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.

I am sure both books could provide some value in aiding a parent or guardian’s discussion with a young person about sex and sexuality. For some young people, the library may be the only place they can learn about such things.

The Penguin Random House website says “Let’s Talk About It” “provides a comprehensive, thoughtful, well-researched graphic novel guide to everything you need to know” about “relationships, friendships, gender, sexuality, anatomy, body image, safe sex, sexting, jealousy, rejection, sex education, and more.”

The Amazon summary calls “It’s Perfectly Normal” a “universally acclaimed classic” that offers “accurate and up-to-date answers to nearly every imaginable question, from conception and puberty to birth control and AIDS” and “offers young people the information they need — now more than ever — to make responsible decisions and stay healthy.”

Yet both books unnecessarily contain material too graphic to describe in detail in this family newspaper.

Discussing sex and sexuality is one thing, but talking to young people about kinks alongside pornographic images is another.

The books belong in the adult section.

Library Director Debra Greenacre declined to comment for this column.

Library officials have previously defended the standards they use for shelving books. The library has launched a new page on its website offering a guide to parents and caregivers on choosing the right books for their family. The page can be reached at alpenalibrary.org/resources-for-parents.

A group of Alpena County residents, led by some area pastors, have demanded the library either reshelve the books in the adult section or even put them behind the counter, only available to adults. Some want the books out of the library altogether.

Formal challenges have been filed, but the library has rejected those challenges.

And many of those working to have the books moved or removed have threatened to defund the library if they don’t get their way.

The library will in August ask voters to renew the 0.7462-mill property tax that funds library upkeep and operations. The tax costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $37 a year, the owner of a $200,000 house about $75 a year, etc. The tax raises nearly $850,000 a year for the library, and, without it, the library would have to significantly reduce its hours and offerings or even close.

Many Alpena County residents threaten no votes if the library doesn’t do something about the controversial books.

I am still a yes vote.

I disagree with most of the book challenges being filed against public libraries and school libraries around the country, especially those targeting books merely because they contain LGBTQ themes.

I agree the sexually graphic books at our library need to be reshelved.

However, the many goods provided by our library outweigh the bad.

The library offers a wealth of knowledge to all Alpena County residents, regardless of their income. For many families, the library may be their only means to bring books into their home.

But the benefits don’t end there. The library is the only way many Alpena County residents can access the internet, which is needed for everything from health care to job searching to school. The library offers numerous programs that enrich the community, from author visits to coding classes to playgroups for young children.

The Willard Library in Battle Creek meant a lot to me as a youngster. That place exposed me to so many authors I loved as a kid, helped foster my love of writing, and certainly helped me get good grades in school.

The book issue can be worked out. The Alpena County Board of Commissioners has reached out to the library board to try to force a solution.

But a no vote can’t be undone, and the library can’t offer all it offers if it loses $850,000 a year.

So I will hope that residents, the county board, and the library board reach some sort of compromise on where or if those graphic books end up at the library, but I still will support the library, regardless.

Because this community needs a library, and our library needs a yes vote.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.


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