Content advisory: The following story and photos depict mature subject matter. Cowboy State Daily gently blurred parts of nude images, but in the original books the nude images are uncensored. Read at your own discretion.
The Campbell County Public Library Board fired its library director of 11 years in a 4-1 vote Friday, after months of tension over sexually graphic books in the library’s children’s and teen’s sections.
“It wasn’t a decision I wanted to make,” said Sage Bear, Campbell County Public Library Board member, in a Saturday interview with Cowboy State Daily. “I didn’t want to go in there and ‘clean house.’ We really tried to work with the director and it just came down to this. I’m sad that it did.”
Bear declined to say why the board let Terri Lesley go, noting that “it’s an at-will state and she’s an at-will employee.”
But she acknowledged the vote came after months of dispute over sexually-graphic books in the children’s section of the Campbell County Library. She was the board chair until Monday, when Charlie Butler assumed the position.
The board on June 8 implemented a new curation policy requiring librarians to weed the children’s section for “stuff that’s sexually explicit,” said Bear.
Lesley didn’t want to make the determination on what was sexually explicit, Bear said.
Because, First Amendment
Lesley in her own interview with Cowboy State Daily said the policy calls for weeding of “obscene” books.
She said it put her in danger of violating the First Amendment by weeding out books that may not be obscene by the legal definition.
“There are no books in our collection that violate the policy. And I think the board sees that differently than I do,” Lesley said. “There’s nothing in our collection that was obscene.”
The legal definition of obscenity is tenuous. It’s based upon the current “community standards” and makes exceptions for materials with artistic, scientific or literary value.
It would be hard for her to make that call on her own, Lesley said, adding that it would be better for community members to challenge books with which they take issue.
A Few Book Challenges
Some local residents have challenged books in recent years, including “How Do You Make A Baby” by Anna Fiske, “Sex Is A Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg and “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
But they all remain in the library.
Another challenged book, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, librarians moved to the adult section, rationalizing that the sex scenes in the book involved adults, Bear said.
Bear noted that “How Do You Make A Baby” has been moved to the parenting section, but she described the section as a higher-shelved region within the children’s area. The book features cartoon sex scenes and full and accurate depictions of genitalia.
Lesley said she can gauge what the community finds obscene by the book challenges, but that in the case of the new curation policy, no books were specifically named for weeding.
As For This Meeting
The Wyoming Democratic Party dispatched an alert Friday on Twitter urging people to resist the move to fire Lesley at that day’s 3 p.m. board meeting, saying the meeting would happen “WITHOUT PUBLIC COMMENT.”
The board allowed public comment initially, until no-applause and other protocols prompted the board to discontinue it, said Lesley. She emphasized that she was grateful for the massive support of the community.
About 80% of the attendees in the packed location were there to support her, Lesley estimated.
Bear said personnel matters don’t require public comment and can happen in executive session, but Lesley wanted to present publicly and the board allowed it.
Charlie Anderson was the lone nay vote opposing Lesley’s termination. Bear, Charles Butler, Chelsie Collier and Darcy Lyon all voted to let the director go.
Wyoming’s Democratic Party leadership characterized the new curation policy as arbitrary, saying it would force the library director to remove any books deemed “inappropriate” by the board and would censor materials acquired in the future.
The library board, the party’s tweet said, consists of the Campbell County Commission’s “right-wing” appointees.
Almost Three Decades
Lesley had been working in the Campbell County Library system for 27 years, 11 of them as director.
She said she was humbled by the support she received Friday.
“I can’t express enough how happy I am to have the excellent staff that I’ve had and they’ve been amazing through all of this,” said Lesley. “They’ve been through a lot and I am also very thankful for the Campbell County community and the strong support I’ve received. It’s very humbling.”
Though she grew up frequenting the public library, it wasn’t Lesley’s plan in college to become a librarian, but she applied for a job 27 years ago and came to love it, she said.
“It felt like home. It felt like a good fit,” she said. “We’re fortunate in Gillette to have a very good library.”
Comin’ On For A While
Both Lesley and Bear said the director’s termination has been looming for a while.
There was an earlier meeting Thursday where the board asked Lesley to turn in her resignation and she declined, said Bear.
Bear said she and other board members tried for months to work with Lesley, but recently found that they could not do so any longer.
Lesley said she had been expecting to be fired.
“I have kind of expected something like this based on the political beliefs of the people who have been appointed to the board,” said Lesley. “It wasn’t a surprise.”
She’ll soon be exploring new job options, but for now, Lesley said she’s just taking a weekend off of work worries.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.