By Dennis Minich
The Cass County Library Board listened for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon as patrons lined up to speak for or against a controversial youth book, “It’s Perfectly Normal.” After listening and then discussing the topic for more than another half hour, the board decided to kick the can down the road and talk about it again next month.
The board appeared set to vote on having the book moved from the juvenile section, which is housed in the Harrisonville branch in the same room as the children’s books, to the young adult section, but just before the vote, trustee Tonya Long who had made the motion, withdrew it, saying she wanted more time to study the matter and visit with library director Christie Kessler.
The board may take the matter up at its next meeting Oct. 20.
“It’s Perfectly Normal” is described as a book to “Inform pre-adolescent children of puberty by exploring different definitions of sex.”
Among the topics in the book are sexual identity, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and alternative lifestyles. The book has no pictures, but does contain explicit drawings.
The book has been a lightning rod for the past month after about 20 patrons showed up at the August meeting to complain about the book. They were led by County Commissioner Ryan Johnson who said the commission had heard about the book and he was requesting it be moved to a more age-appropriate area.
Tuesday, more than 60 people were in attendance, fairly-evenly divided between supporters and detractors of the book.
There were 17 people who addressed the board.
Seth Meyers led off the discussion supporting the book. “I am excited we are here to talk about a book. As a resident of Cass County, I didn’t want the board to think we were all of one mind,” he said.
Another supporter, Chelsea Clarke said, “It is a book intended for children and should be in the children’s section. This (discussion) reeks of suppression.”
Allison Bruflat took exception to claims the book was a breeding ground for child molesters. “It’s been in the library since 1994. There are no documented cases of molestation attributed to this book,” she said.
Amy Burkholder read from the library’s policy which said, in part, “Children under eight should be accompanied by adults.”
She added, “It’s my job to look out for my kids, not the library’s.”
Opponents of the book were equally passionate.
Josh Wollberg, the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Harrisonville said, “You are teaching children there are no rules. If your grandma sat down to read you a book, it would not be the book she would read.”
Amy Hastings drew laughs from the crowd when she showed board members a photo of the illustrations in the book. She
then showed it to a television photographer who said, “We wouldn’t be able to show that.”
Hastings added, “It is accessible to kids, but it can’t be shown on TV.”
Chris Johnson said those calling it censorship were hypocritical noting books, such as how to build a nuclear detonator, would not be allowed in the library.
“Prudeness is not one of my vices,” he said. “But this book is totally inappropriate.”
After the August meeting, Kessler wrote a letter to the county commission saying the book would be left where it was. The discussion was called for at the board meeting by trustee Barbara Boucher who said she objected to the book last month. The board was deciding whether to uphold the staff decision to keep the book where it was or move it to another area.
Long started the discussion and noted, “This started out as a logistical request, but has turned into something else. Something is wrong if a parent can’t ask for a book to be moved.
“I don’t think anyone is asking us to ban a book, but if it can be moved to a place that’s more age appropriate.”
Boucher said the book was poorly written and the illustrations seemed to be designed more for entertainment than for education. She said the board should approve the county commission’s request. “Our library is supported by the taxpayers. The voters elected the commissioners and they appoint this board,” she said.
She also called for a closed session in the near future to discuss personnel. An executive session has been called for at the next board meeting scheduled for Oct. 20.
Board member Roger Toomey said he has not seen the book and there is a waiting list for it at the Garden City branch. “I guess the question is who needs the knowledge and is that knowledge available? Maybe this is the wrong book,” he said.
Board President Becky Klein appeared to be supportive of the staff’s decision to leave the book where it was and board member Mary Dobson made no comments.
Long’s motion to move the book to the young adult section was seconded by Toomey, making it appear the majority would approve the change, before her sudden withdrawal.
“I want to delay the vote to discuss all of the ramifications,” she said.