Children’s literature at the library is again under debate, and 134 community members stood behind the Coronado Public Library and its current policies at a Sept. 19 Coronado City Council meeting.
“We forcefully oppose any efforts of a small group of ideologues to change library policies to fit narrow views,” said Laura Wilkinson as she presented a letter signed by supportive residents to the council. “It’s axiomatic in a democracy: No one minority group has the right to impose its view on an entire community.”
The letter was composed after a group of residents called for stricter library policies at a Sept. 5 council meeting, although the issue originally arose after a June preschool story time program included a Pride-themed book whose illustrations some parents balked at.
Over the summer, after public comment on the matter stretched a city council meeting late into the evening, the library changed its policies around children’s programming so parents would be aware of which books would be read during story time. City Manager Tina Friend conceded that the book in question, which included cartoon depictions of nudity at a Pride parade, was inappropriate.
The issue resurfaced when Jessica Tompane, alongside supporters, requested the library codify two new policies restricting sexual content or depictions of nudity, not from the library itself, but from the children’s section.
“(These) demands,” the letter submitted Tuesday reads, “if taken in their entirety, would remove all materials with references to the LGTBQ+ community from the children’s library collections and programs. They also seek to significantly restrict access to health materials dealing with puberty. Historically, no such complaints of this nature have ever been made in our community, and the views of this group in no way represent a majority, or even significant portion, of Coronado residents.”
But Tompane and those who agree with her say it’s not about sexual orientation, but rather, about sexual content of any type in the children’s section, which is aimed at ages 0 to 12. She believes when and how those topics are broached should be left to parents’ discretion, and that putting such content in a designated area would give library patrons more agency in selecting appropriate material for their children.
Her critics call the push a veiled attempt at censorship and book banning.
During her comments at Tuesday’s meeting, Wilkinson argued that under the proposed new policies, The Emperor’s New Clothes, a classic Hans Christian Andersen folktale, would be deemed inappropriate for containing nudity. Library supporters also say the proposed policies are legally problematic.
Book banning has recently found its way into both the state and national political conversations. Over the summer, controversy arose when the Temecula Unified School District voted to ban a social studies book that mentioned Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, who was assassinated nearly a year later. The school board’s president, Joseph Komrosky, called Milk a pedophile during a public meeting.
Parents in the district rallied both for and against the book, but the state stepped in.
“We’re going to purchase the books for these students,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a July Tweet. “If these extremist school board members won’t do their job, we will – and fine them for their incompetence.”
Outside California, a Florida Department of Education document reveals that school districts in the state removed more than 300 books from their shelves in response to more than 1,200 objections raised by parents and residents.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, a handful of people spoke in agreement with Wilkinson, but for the sake of brevity, she said the comments included with residents’ signatures would speak for themselves.
Because the library’s policies was not listed as an agenda item, the city council was legally precluded from commenting on the matter, but the letter, along with its signatures, was taken into the city record, and the topic may be placed on a future council agenda.
Read the full text of the letter here.
Editor’s Note: Updated Sept. 26, 2023 to correct the word ideologue.