Under Threat Of Takeover, Fremont County Library Changes Sex Book Policies

Under pressure from county commissioners to change how it handles controversial and sexually-themed material or lose its board chair, the Fremont County Library Board approved a handful of changes Wednesday.

Clair McFarland

April 18, 20247 min read

Fremont County Library Board Chair Carrie Johnson, back-facing, and board member Kristen McClelland, center, sparred over whether the library should implement parental checkout restrictions.
Fremont County Library Board Chair Carrie Johnson, back-facing, and board member Kristen McClelland, center, sparred over whether the library should implement parental checkout restrictions. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

Under pressure from local elected officials to align the library to community standards or lose its board chair, the Fremont County Library Board approved a handful of changes Wednesday during an emergency session.

The Fremont County Commission sent a letter to library board members April 2 outlining a list of reform demands and the threat that if those weren’t resolved by May 1, the commission would replace Library Board Chair Carrie Johnson with Fremont County Commission Vice-Chair Mike Jones.

In response, the board approved a multi-step challenge procedure Wednesday in which community members can appeal their book challenges to the library board if they disagree with the director’s decision on a challenged book or material. But the board won't hear the challenger's appeal if he or she has not read the book.

The board then can choose to uphold the director’s decision or to review the materials for a later vote.

If board members are tasked with reviewing materials, only members who have read the challenged books will be allowed to vote on them in the final review vote.

Fremont County Library Director Anita Marple spoke against this provision, saying board members should be able to vote to uphold the director’s decisions about challenged books on principle and if they’re satisfied with the director’s review.

“I feel like (board members who oppose holding a review vote) should have the option to just stand by their decision without reading the material,” said Marple. “If they’re satisfied in their mind the review process was thorough and they’re good with it.”

“You’re dismissing the full board decision by saying that,” Board Secretary Marta Mossburg countered.

Board Chair Carrie Johnson warned that if the procedure requires a full review, the board should establish a timeline to give everyone a chance to read the books.

The board also approved a restriction on the frequency of challenges with the final decision for each challenged book will stand for three years.

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Next Up, Kids’ Library Cards

Mossburg and Board Member Kristen McClelland, have pushed at past meetings for a system in which parents can restrict kids from certain books by placing checkout barriers on their library accounts.

Board Vice-Chair Perry Cook made a motion, which passed, to direct Marple to investigate that prospect and report back to the board. 

This was in response to the commission’s mandate for the board to consider “age-appropriateness” of materials in the library system.

During the debate, McClelland said parents have approached her about attaching content ratings to books.

Some book covers “look very benign” though their contents are not, she said, adding that a rating system could help parents navigate their children’s choices without having to pre-read every book they want to check out.

Marple said that if staffers stick rating stickers denoting, “Oh, this has lots of sex in it,” some kids will specifically seek out those books.

“And I agree with that,” said McClelland, leading to the larger debate about restricting kids from age-level sections instead.

Here Marple and Mossburg clashed again, with Marple saying parents should simply exert more control over their kids’ book choices — and Mossburg saying the barrier system could be a failsafe for busy, working parents who can’t always jump between their child and an inappropriate book.

"I don’t know why empowering parents to give more control is a bad thing?" said Mossburg. "Why is it so difficult to have an option for them to protect their children when they're not around, or they can't be?"

Marple noted that kids can still sit and read books without checking them out, and that parents still can review their child's checkout history. 

"I think parents have all the power they need," said Marple. "I don’t think adding complications to our circulation policy is going to give any more power than you already have."

Don’t Watch That Here

Marple bristled at social media chatter in which some local residents have accused the library of promoting or condoning pornography. She dispatched a letter this month to at least two local news outlets calling that talk “slanderous.”

She reiterated her point Wednesday, saying librarians have always disallowed people from viewing pornography on library computers.

Mossburg disagreed, noting that before a recent vote, the policy only restricted illegal “child pornography” from the computers. She also pointed to the library’s deference to an American Library Association standard that discourages restricting people from viewing any legal materials on the facility’s computers.

Marple countered, saying, “Not filtering (computers) does not equal promoting pornography.”  

The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch.
The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

Kids’ Computers

Marple said she thought it was wrong for commissioners in their letter to chastise board members for not having enacted a policy to filter adult content from kids’ computers.  

“I’ve no doubt the commission has been pressured to believe the board is taking too long,” said Marple.

The board put a proposed filtering policy out for public comment; the public comment period ended Tuesday. Members are scheduled to take a final vote on that May 1, the same day the commissioners’ ultimatums expire.

Jones, the library board liaison, told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month that he can’t rationalize why the policy is just now being finalized when the board has been debating it for months.

“Why do we have all these delays?” said Jones.

He wondered why filtering kids’ computers for inappropriate search results is even a subject for public debate and asked why the director wouldn’t filter those computers automatically.

“This is lost on the community. They just don’t understand why you would hesitate at all to put in filtering on the computers for children,” said Jones.

And That T-Shirt

Lastly, Marple confronted McClelland because McClelland went to Riverton’s Walmart this winter wearing a shirt that said “Get Your PORN At The Fremont County Library” — presumably in protest of sexually-graphic books in the young adult collection and the reported occurrence of pornography on library computers.

A Riverton Branch Library staffer happened to be in the checkout line in front of McClelland and snapped a photo that has now gone viral within the community, Marple said.

“For that individual that was super upsetting,” said Marple. “And for the whole staff here, it puts them on edge when they come into the library.” She said she was offended by the shirt’s message as well.

McClelland said the board has already discussed her T-shirt.

“I wore the shirt. I can’t turn back from that. I haven’t worn the shirt since,” she said, adding that she feels strongly about the subject, but now believes wearing the shirt was inappropriate. “I take responsibility for that — that was maybe not the best thing to do as a board member.”

McClelland reminded the board that she’s “not the only person” who has behaved inappropriately amid these controversies.

Cook said it’s time to move forward.

“I think a lot of us have made mistakes,” she said. “(Let’s) learn from it and let’s just all be civil and go and do what we’re here to do, which is to continue to be a great library.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter