Are they banning books at Millbrook Library?
Millbrook Library

Are they banning books at Millbrook Library?

MILLBROOK — A volunteer read from Billie Jean King’s “A Kids Book About Equality” during Alden Place Elementary’s fifth grade field trip to their local library on Friday, Feb. 2.

A teacher accompanying the students felt that the book, because it included the phrase “non-binary,” was inappropriate for children. (Teachers and staff have said that they were not made aware of the content before the reading.)

The teacher also noticed other books that they felt might be questionable for children of that age.

That afternoon, School Superintendent Caroline Hernandez Pidala alerted parents of the teacher’s concerns in a letter, letting them know that King’s “Book About Equality” had been read at the library. She then advised that parents talk to the teachers or the Alden Place Principal Thomas Libka if they had questions or concerns.

On Feb. 3, a petition to remove the books was put up on Change.org. It read:

“As a concerned parent and resident of Millbrook, NY, I am deeply troubled by the presence of gender ideology books and symbols in the children’s section of our local library.” It continued:

“We believe that discussions on gender ideology should be had with family and left for when they’re older and more capable of understanding these concepts fully.”

“Gender ideology” is a term used in far right circles to describe and discredit the acknowledgement of trans, non-binary and other gender non-conforming people.

The petition asked that the Millbrook Library management consider this plea:

“Please remove all gender ideology books and symbols from the children’s section in our library.”

At a board meeting held on February 20, Millbrook Library acknowledged that one of the books mentioned in the petition had been miscatalogued, and had been removed from the children's section of the library to the Young Adult section, where it belonged, before the petition had been released.

A total of 4,240 book titles were marked for restriction or removal in 2023, in schools and libraries across America. School libraries saw an increase of 11% in challenges, while public libraries reported a 92% increase of challenges to specific books.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), from 2022 to 2023, the banned books with unique titles list grew by 65%. About 47% of these books were about the LGBTQ community or people of color, or both.

The petition to move books in the Millbrook Library had been written by Kay Vanderlyn of Millbrook, who has five children, none of whom attend Alden Elementary.

Her petition stated that “while it’s crucial to teach our children about diversity and acceptance, introducing such complex topics at an early age may lead to confusion or distress.

“Our request isn’t about censorship or denying access to information. It’s about ensuring age-appropriate materials for our children.”

The letter also explained that “our community is home to many young minds that are still developing their understanding of the world. It is our responsibility as parents and guardians to guide them through this process.”

The Millbrook Library Board, and Library Board President Jodi Fernandes, responded to the petition with a letter that was made public via the library web site.

They acknowledged the incident, and noted that the teacher had also raised concerns that a new book on display about reproduction, ‘It’s So Amazing’ by Robie H. Harris, was inappropriate.

They said that one of the books cited had been miscatalogued and had already been moved to the Young Adult section, prior to the petition’s release.

The letter went on to note that the petition had asked that all material and symbols related to “gender ideology” cited books and images of rainbow-colored items on display in the Children’s and Young Adult section of the library.

The Board noted that they had been serving the Millbrook public for 125 years through its mission to empower the community to be resilient, informed and equitable through leadership and collaboration.

They also noted that by providing free information, educational programs and services, they hope to encourage each community member to feel seen, heard and valued.

They agreed that some materials should be left to the parent or guardian to discuss with the child; therefore, they say, they have put a new procedure into place meant to ensure that all field trips, when parents or guardians are not present, will have the content pre-selected by the visiting school in advance “to align with specific needs of classes and studies.”

“In terms of content selection and removal, we have an established Collection Development Policy that exists to help guide the staff in the selection of materials to support the community,” it continues.

“Should anyone in the community wish to have books within the library reconsidered for circulation, we have a policy in place to do so,” they stated, and noted that there is a link on the library website for that purpose.

The letter also made clear that families in the community had recently requested age-appropriate books on themes of gender identity and inclusivity.

“All these materials have been vetted through the Collection Development Policy. We appreciate that there are many different perspectives in a healthy and thriving community, and that is what makes a community great — the ability to share varying points of view and information through passionate discourse.”

The letter from the Library Board finishes by thanking everyone who has reached out to them, in person, over the phone, through email and in writing to share their perspectives on the library’s collections, and encouraged the public to continue to share ideas, concerns and wishes with the library staff.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Billy Jean King's 'A Kids Book About Equality' included discussions of gender identity. An earlier version of the story also inaccurately implied that Millbrook Library removed books from the children's section of the library in response to the petition; in fact, the library did not remove any books from the children's section in response to the petition.

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