The board of a library system in an Indiana county posted new guidelines in December for books in the library’s “teen” section. Books, graphic novels, and comics found to contain overtly sexual content or racial slurs would be moved one room over, to the adult section.

As a result of this policy and growing concerns over child-pornographic graphic novels such as “Gender Queer,” the board of trustees for Hamilton East Public Library followed up by voting April 27 to review the entire collection of graphic novels in the teen section. (The term “graphic novel” refers to a story told and illustrated in comic-book format, but bound as a book.)

Local media began writing scathing articles about the library board’s ordering “shelves emptied” in a project “expected to cost $300,000”—all because “Republicans gained seats on the public library’s board of trustees.” Rachel Fradette, a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, wrote that the review by the Hamilton County library system is a “book banning policy.”

None of those claims is true.

First, according to four of the seven board members for the Hamilton East Public Library, library Director Edra Waterman acted on her own and no one ordered her to remove any graphic novels from library shelves. 

One board member, Micah Beckwith, told The Daily Signal:

As a board, we have never asked staff to ban or remove any book from the library. All we’ve asked Hamilton East Public Library staff is to review books that could contain explicit graphic content. If any is found, we are not removing the book, we are just asking that it be placed in the adult section of the library so parents can have a little better grasp on what their children are reading. We welcome all viewpoints at the [Hamilton East Public Library], including those from parents who have voiced their concern that some of the content is too graphic or explicit for their children. We want to be an inclusive and tolerant environment for all.

Second, the reported $300,000 price tag is also grossly misleading. During the library board’s April 27 meeting, Waterman, the library director, said that amount was a “misquote” because it included the planned hiring of several full-time library staffers and wasn’t just for the review of materials in the teen section.  

Although Waterman suggested that hiring part-time help for the review would amount to at least $120,000, the Hamilton East Public Library board has rebuffed this estimate as well. (The library has two branches in Hamilton County, one in Fishers and the other in Noblesville.)

“The reports of a $300,000 expected cost are nonsensical,” board member Tiffanie Ditlevson told The Daily Signal. “When we [previously] reviewed the children’s books to make sure they complied with the children section’s guidelines, it didn’t cost an additional penny.” 

According to board documents obtained by The Daily Signal, this is true. Prior reviews of library books incurred no additional cost and didn’t necessitate hiring additional staff. 

Several board members also told The Daily Signal that Waterman had asked before for additional full-time staff, as indicated by an October update to the 2022 fiscal plan.

Several board members suggested that Waterman artificially inflated the costs of the review of books to generate political drama.

The Indianapolis Star’s Fradette, who calls herself a “pot-stirrer” in her Twitter bio, didn’t correct the $300,000 estimate or provide more information about previous reviews by the library. She has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Signal.

Fox59 (WXIN-TV), HuffPost, and podcaster Brian Tyler Cohen also cite Fradette’s IndyStar article. Cohen directly asserted on his show “No Lie With Brian Tyler Cohen” that the library’s review of materials aimed at teens would cost $300,000.

Third, Cohen and Fradette claim that Republicans’ gaining of seats on the board of the Hamilton East Public Library directly led to “the empty book shelves.” But given Waterman’s choice to empty the shelves of the teen section herself, against the wishes of what Fradette called the “newly Republican-majority board,” this claim is also objectively false.

The board of trustees for Hamilton East Public Library is not publicly elected, nor is it partisan. Of the seven board members, three are appointed by local public schools, two are appointed by the Hamilton County Council, and two by the Hamilton County commissioner. No evidence supports Fradette’s imagined Republican grand strategy.

Community concerns about graphic novels have grown considerably amid the national attention garnered by the sexually explicit images and language found in titles such as “Gender Queer,” “This Book Is Gay,” “Flamer,” and “Let’s Talk About It.” The publicity has led school and public libraries to review books for inappropriate sexual content—and then move offending books to adult sections, not throw them out.

Hoosier Democrat activists such as Amie Neiling, a failed candidate for state representative, have begun using the gaslighting reports from the IndyStar and HuffPost to claim that this review of teen books is the beginning of a fascist takeover. They’ve hyperlinked Fradette’s IndyStar article with a picture of Nazis carrying books out of a library and added the caption: “Coming soon to an Indiana library near you.” 

Such responses have become more common as Democrats around the country accuse Republicans of “book banning.”

Despite a lack of evidence that any “bans” actually are taking place, activists such as Chelsea Clinton claim that “LGBTQ+ characters & themes” are the target of book bans.

Opponents of relocating the books do admit that some graphic novels aimed at teens are pornographic, however. 

Nikki Fried, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, mocked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, for criticizing students’ access to inappropriate material. After a press conference at which DeSantis displayed and posted an excerpt from “Let’s Talk About It,” which features drawings of sexual content, Fried commented on Twitter: “Ron posting butt plug porn to own the libs.” 

Parents who have read excerpts from these books at meetings of school boards and legislative committees have been stopped midsentence when the material was considered too disturbing for the general public.

One Florida school board removed a parent from a meeting for reading excerpts from “Gender Queer,” found in the library of her child’s school. 

For Hamilton East Public Library, the review of graphic novels in the teen section will continue. Any books found to contain sexually explicit content will be moved to the adult section, not “banned.” 

Four members of the library board released this statement to The Daily Signal on Wednesday morning:

The undersigned members of the Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL) Board of Trustees would like to correct the misinformation that is being circulated in print and in the media about the revised Collection Policy and the current review of books in the children and teen section of the library.

We are NOT censoring, NOT banning and NOT hiding any books. Nor are we telling the Librarian what books to purchase.

We are moving books that are age-inappropriate for the location that the Librarians chose to put them. These books will be moved into the general collection of the library, which is accessible by all card holders. This policy will be used with all books purchased in the future.

The HEPL library card provides any user at any age full access to all sections of the library. It is not possible to “hide” books in the library. All books can be found in the online library catalog from the website or at computer access points in the libraries. Part of the review effort is to ensure they are correctly cataloged.`

The selection criteria for these moves have been approved by legal counsel and are in line with constitutional requirements for a public library. There is no legal precedent that suggests public libraries may not move books to different sections based on age-appropriateness or other guidelines.

The cost of moving these books is the price we have to pay to correct actions that were taken in the past. These costs are currently under Board review.

The statement was signed by Beckwith and Ditlevson as well as fellow board members Laura Alderling and Ray Maddalone.

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