SALINE COUNTY, Ark. – In a much-anticipated announcement, Saline County Judge Matt Brumley said the county library would remain under the library committee but changing state law will mandate some changes.
Brumley held a news conference Monday to address what he called the mischaracterization of positions and policies regarding the placing and accused censorship of library books in the library.
The controversy began when a member of the community brought books to a library committee meeting that he claimed were inappropriate for the children’s section, Brumley said.
That statement to the committee led Brumley to have a meeting with library director Patty Hector.
“We disagreed on fundamental things,” Brumley said about the meeting.
Hector had gone on record with her opinion that moving books is censoring books. On the library’s website, a post dated April 27 details the library’s categorization of its Youth Service holdings as 19,619 works divided between three age groups: 0-7 years, 8-12 years and 13-18 years.
“Out of the 3,801,985 items checked out from the Saline County Library in the last six years, the library has received zero Reconsideration of Materials requests,” the website states
Brumley said a newly passed Arkansas law mandated some action be taken about book placement in any library in the state. The law, due to go into effect Aug. 1, makes it illegal to position material in a library “that depicts or describes nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse,” to a minor.
This law, coupled with the existing complaint about the placement of certain library books, is what Brumley said led him to want to do “the next right thing.”
The county quorum court passed a resolution on April 17 to call for the library to keep sexually explicit material out of the library children’s section, Brumley said. That resolution was non-binding but done in anticipation of the upcoming law, he noted.
Shortly after the resolution was passed, a billboard was put up in Benton stating “Stop X-Rated library books.” The billboard included the URL SalineLibrary.com, and on that site there is a demand for Hector to be removed from her post, as well as reviews of several books in the library’s young adult collection that are not “wholesome and good.”
It was later revealed the billboard was put up by the Saline County Republicans and that the group has since put up a new billboard in the county stating “Director Hector must go.”
The court then passed an ordinance on June 19 to give the county judge oversight authority over the library. The ordinance passed on its first vote at that meeting and will need to be voted in favor in July and August for it to become law.
More than 100 public comments have been received about the ordinance, Brumley said, with the “vast majority” in favor of it.
The June 19 Quorum Court meeting was packed with supporters and detractors of changes to the library board structure, with several in attendance calling for Hector’s dismissal and many others voicing support for her.
After detailing the contentious June 19 meeting, Brumley said he had received a resignation from a library committee director Caroline Robinson. He has appointed Jamie Clemmer as the new committee director. The board will have ultimate oversight, the judge said.
Brumley stressed that at no time was the intent to censor or disallow certain books or defund the library, but only to bring certain books out of the library’s children’s section. He stressed any actions were to move, not ban, any books in the library’s collection away from “minor young eyes.”
The judge also the example of the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a series of essays by George M. Johnson. According to Amazon, the book includes descriptions of sexual encounters. There was no full list shared by Brumley of books being considered for being moved out of the children’s section.
Brumley also expressed concern about threats going back and forth between sides engaged in the library debate and encouraged anyone who had been threatened to contact area law enforcement for immediate action.