Book backlash

Jolene Mullet, a teen services librarian at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, routinely puts out displays for national recognition months. This month is Gay Pride Month. Some books on display caused a backlash among residents.

JONESBORO — A children’s book display at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library is causing concern with some parents.

Stephanie Nichols, a local attorney, said when her 11-year-old daughter made a trip to the library, she came home asking questions Nichols feels aren’t age appropriate.

“Grace told me about a display promoting Gay Pride month in the children’s area,” Nichols said.

One book in particular, called GayBCs, is a book for 4- to 8-year-olds, according to a Barnes and Nobles description, and runs through the alphabet using LGBTQ terms.

It is not the first time the book, written by M.L. Webb and released in 2019, has garnered negative attention.

On Feb. 25, a Facebook social media page called Gayety, shared a video called “Adorable Kids reads his GayBCs.” There was much backlash as many posts were made in objection to the video. Many argued that a toddler is too young to learn about anything related to LGBTQ terminology.

Some were in favor of beginning education at a young age. At the end, the mother asked her toddler son if he was a woke toddler. “Yes,” he said.

“Can you say, ‘I’m woke?’”

“I’m woke,” he responded.

Nichols echoes the sentiments of those in opposition of the book in regard to her 11-year-old daughter.

“I did some further investigation, I looked at the book, and I looked at the posts,” she said. “I know we have to be careful how much we censor adults, but children are different.

“I don’t think I should let my daughter go to the library and then have to have a discussion about what pansexualism is,” she said.

David Eckert, director of the Craighead County Public Library, said it is the first time he can remember the library having problems with any displays.

“I have had 35 emails in favor of the Pride displays, and really only three people who are against it,” Eckert said.

“Those three people showed up in person to complain; I had two other people who called complaining,” he said.

Eckert said the library always puts out materials for Pride months.

“We put displays out for every event,” he said, noting this is a custom the library has had as long as he could remember.

Eckert said he has had people ask him what his agenda is.

“We just want people to check out books,” he said.

Nichols said there is an appropriate time and place for those discussions, which should be left to the discretion of the parent.

“I think the age to have those discussions really depends on the age and maturity level of the child,” she said.

When the library displays those books, that takes the control out of the hands of the parent, and puts it in the library’s, she said.

Malorie McDermott, teen services librarian, said the books on the Pride Month displays are a representation of what home is.

“Single-parent homes, or books about being raised by grandparents, or books about being raised by gay or lesbian couples,” she said.

Jolene Mullet, another teen services librarian, said there was no backlash until this week, when, on Monday or Tuesday, state Sen. Dan Sullivan shared a woman’s post saying the display is inappropriate.

Mullet said Sullivan said he planned to be at the next board meeting.

Sullivan shared Cathy Davis Tarver’s post in the Northeast Arkansas Tea Party Group, where she complained about the display.

“Stay informed: I plan to attend the next Craighead County Library Board meeting,” Sullivan wrote in response.

Mullet said she is aware there are specific titles that have been the target of complaints in the past.

“We have looked at those titles in the past and consider if this is something that needs to be in the collection,” she said.

In his opinion, Eckert said the current remodeling of the library is most likely the reason the displays are more noticeable this year.

“… We have had to cram up three or more displays in one area due to construction,” he said. “It’s just more visible because of the space constraints.”

Tonya Ryals, assistant director, emailed the library’s policy for how to handle material reconsideration requests. Patrons can fill out a material reconsideration form found on the library’s website.