It’s common for library bulletin boards to be filled with displays promoting various aspects of literature, but an LGBT display featured at the Temple Public Library this summer yielded polarizing reactions from the community.
At Tuesday’s quarterly meeting of the library board, many residents shared their thoughts on the display.
The library had two displays up in June that highlighted LGBT-themed books. A bulletin board was decorated with various types of rainbows and a flier titled “Be inspired: Celebrate pride month.” The material on the board stated that June was recognized by the American Library Association as LGBT book month. The board was up for the entire month.
A second display, a table near the children’s desk, was up for one week. The table included informational sheets which included a list of books with LGBT themes. The books were divided into different age groups with some books displayed on the table.
The library received few comments about the displays, but the issue gained steam after an Aug. 5 Facebook post by a local group, Concerned Christian Citizens, criticizing the display.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s meeting, 21 residents spoke about the displays, beginning with former state Rep. Molly White.
“Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine that my grandchildren would be exposed to materials that are not only contrary to personal growth, but leads people down a path of dysfunction and self destruction,” White said. “Family units with a mother and father are the backbone of all society. Without strong, intact family units, societies will collapse.”
Resident Linell Mikeska countered, saying she believes the library has a right to disseminate information.
“The free flow of information was considered so important by our founding fathers — the men who established this country — that freedom of press, freedom of speech along with freedom of religion were enshrined in the First Amendment of this Constitution,” Mikeska said.
She added that though there may be material in the library that some people disagree with, it doesn’t necessarily mean such material should be removed.
“I bet if we all got up and took a walk through the library and randomly picked up books, there might be things in those books that some of us may find disagreeable. We may not even think they belong in the library. So where does it stop?” she asked. “I say, we need to applaud this library for standing up for its mission and upholding the best principles that this country was founded on.”
C.J. Grisham, founder of Open Carry Texas, disagreed. He said the rights of a governmental entity are not synonymous with the rights of an individual citizen.
“I take a very pragmatic approach to this. I don’t think the library or any government entity has a First Amendment right. The people have First Amendment rights,” Grisham said.
He also said a library display should demonstrate more than one viewpoint.
“If we’re going to glorify one set of deviant or degenerate activities, then we need to have the other side and we need to have traditional displays. I’m not saying the library can’t do that. I believe if the library wants to present something, they should be able to present something. But they should be able to present the other side,” Grisham said.
Robert Stine also said the library shouldn’t promote one viewpoint without giving equal opportunities to other views.
“The display isn’t really something you would do for anybody. It was definitely seen as a political promotion. My concern is that, as a community library, we are not a privately-owned library that might be supported by those who share the political views of the owners of the library. This is a community library, and as such, I don’t think it should be taking strong political positions in favor of or against any particular group or special interest,” Stine said.
But Killeen resident Bob Blair, who frequents the Temple library, said he didn’t view the displays as a political statement.
“I think the point has been missed here. That display was not about politics. It was not about values or religion. It was some books,” Blair said. “It was some books about people who are in this room. It was just information. Information is useful in an argument, but information itself is not an argument. Librarians are exactly correct in putting information out on the shelf, and I support them.”
Library Director Leigh Gardner said the displays were part of an awareness series called “Build a Better World.” She said the series also featured topics such as volunteerism and poverty awareness.
The library currently does not have a policy or set of guidelines for displays created by librarians. Interim City Manager Brynn Myers said in August that the response to the displays has the city exploring the idea of creating new policies.
“This brought to my attention the need to have an expanded policy that covers all areas of the library,” Myers told the Telegram Aug. 12. “I think it is very important that we have a written policy that provides clear guidance to staff on the process for the selection and approval of display and display materials...so that we’re able to focus on our goals of providing informational, educational and recreational resources to all.”
The board did not take any action Tuesday concerning such a policy. Gardner said a policy is still being crafted and will be implemented after Myers, who is on maternity leave, returns.