By Dennis Minich
At least for the time being, the controversial children’s book, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” will stay in the juvenile section of the Cass County Public Libraries. The decision was made Oct. 20 when the library board met at the Cass County Information Center.
The board voted 3-2 to no move the book.
A decision had to be made by the board because the book, which is described as “a book to inform pre-adolescent children of puberty by exploring different definitions of sex,” had drawn protests from the community. Since August, crouds have gathered at the board’s meeting, including Cass County Associate Commissioner Ryan Johnson. Although some supported the book, most, including Johnson, had requested to have the book moved to what they deemed a “more age-appropriate area.”
According to information material provided by the library, “It’s Perfectly Normal” is currently on shelves in the juvenile area which is intended for readers from 7 to 12 years old. At the Harrisonville branch, the juvenile section is in a room with the “easy” section, which is for ages zero to 7. Some thought moving the book to the young adult section, designed for readers 12 to 18 was the easiest solution.
However, after first hearing the request in August, the library staff decided to keep the book in the juvenile section and the county commissioners were informed by letter. At the September meeting, even more people were on hand. At the meeting, three members of the board appeared to be in favor of moving it, however a motion to move the book was withdrawn before a vote could be taken, leaving the decision until last week’s meeting.
The split on the board was obvious early as members Barbara Boucher and Tonya Long both were vocal about moving the book, while board president Becky Klein and board member Roger Toomey supported leaving it alone. Toomey’s comments seemed to be opposite of his view last month when he had seconded the motion to move the book. With two votes on each side, the deciding vote was cast by Mary Dobson, who had not spoken during the here meetings and simply said, “I support the staff,” as she voted no on the motion.
Prior to the boards discussion on the matter, a line of 13 speakers addressed the board. Many of the same opponents who spoke at previous meetings, but during the public input, four staff members spoke, mostly to express displeasure on how staff has been treated by the public.
Sara Steinmetz, the children’s specialist spoke about the hardship the situation has created, noting she and other staff members have been called or received emails calling them a variety of names including pornographer and pervert.
“I would like you to know what it’s been like. This all started at my desk when a women very respectfully brought the book to my attention. I told her how to file a complaint form. I never thought it would come to this. You can’t imagine what it’s been like,” she said.
Others mentioned the abuse, but noted topics including “libraries should not censor,” and “we are hearing from a small part of the population, not the majority.”
Opponents continued to complain the book would be too easy for young children to reach.
Elisabeth Tyler said the library’s policy for videos is a “G” rating is appropriate for juveniles.
“If this was a video, it would not be rated G,” she said. “The literature should meet the same standards.”
Once the public comments were closed, the difference in opinions of board members became apparent.
Boucher started the discussion.
“it is obvious the book should be moved to the adult section. It was placed where it is now by members of a previous board. It is not our job to pledge allegiance to another organization like the ALA (American Library Associate). Our responsibility is to the taxpayers of Cass County. So, I move that the book, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” be moved to the adult section of all Cass County Library branches,” Boucher said.
Long seconded the motion.
Toomey then spoke. “I bought the book and I read it. A lot of what is being said is wrong. Everything in the book emphasizes delay and abstain. It is designed for 10 and up so it belongs in the juvenile section,” he said.
“I talked to a lot of parents and not one said they had a problem with the book. Everything in it is pure science.”
Boucher countered, “I don’t know who you have talked to because I’ve talked to a lot of parents and they want the book moved. And it is a very poorly written book.”
Long then spoke.
“I read the book cover to cover. I don’t think everything is scientifically written. It has a lot of opinion,” she said.
She also questioned if it is the library’s responsibility to provide such information.
“This is telling parents to stand aside. Who thinks just because a 10-year-old can read a book, they should read a book?”
Klein did not address the book directly, but indicated it was the staff’s decision to make and admonished those who have made disparaging remarks to staff. She said staff members have suffered from too much disrespect.
“I thank the staff for all they have gone through. This board should act as advocates for the community. We are not using the 2021 version which is the one most of the people are objecting to. We have followed our policy. We have followed our procedure. I support the staff and what they have done,” Klein said.
Following the vote, many in the audience left with some saying, “This isn’t over.”