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Library shelves plans on questionable youth books — at least for now

Updated August 18, 2023 - 4:52 am

Pahrump library trustees declined to make any changes to the public’s book collection on Monday after its director reported that none of the libraries she had surveyed over the past month had censored or banned any youth books about race, gender or sexuality.

Seven similar-sized libraries had relocated some youth titles on sexuality to their adult section, Pahrump Community Library Director Vanja Anderson told trustees on Monday, including a Colorado institution that had moved “sensitive” titles 25 years ago prior to developing a formal challenge process to its public collection.

But since that time, the library hasn’t banned, censored or relocated any books for questionable content, Anderson reported.

The librarian’s research came at the direction of local trustees who asked Anderson last month to probe the policies of other libraries across the U.S., following a complaint from an anonymous community member who said certain books shelved in Pahrump’s public youth collection were inappropriate for young readers here.

A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada criticized the scrutiny, saying it “perpetuates a climate of censorship, intimidation and intellectual repression.”

“Singling out books related to race, gender or sexuality as controversial, the library risks violating the Nevada Equal Rights Amendment,” Jacob Smith, a Pahrump native and staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada warned trustees last month before they ultimately gave Anderson the green-light to proceed with her probe into the policies of other libraries.

Anderson’s survey comprised libraries from all parts of the country — in rural, suburban and urban communities — with the majority similar or smaller in size to Pahrump.

It asked if they had banned, censored or relocated youth books on the topic of race, gender or sexuality and what steps, if any, the library took to scrutinize questionable materials.

Board of Trustees Chair John Shewalter said he was “most impressed” with Anderson’s presentation.

“We’re not going to take any action on this item today,” Shewalter said on Monday, after hearing the findings of the director’s research.

Shewalter told the Pahrump Valley Times in an email on Thursday that the board would post an agenda in advance of any action it might consider on the topic in the future.

Pahrump’s library currently maintains a policy that youth may solely check out books and materials with permission from a parent or guardian, but trustees say that some materials in the youth wing might need to be relocated to another part of the library to better alert adults to their mature themes.

In April, library trustees voted 5-0 to craft a review system of questionable materials after Shewalter said he received an email criticizing a display of LGBTQ+ materials in the library’s youth section that included a book that contains interviews with a handful of gender-neutral young adults on their struggles with identity and transitioning.

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