Library board to implement parental controls
Tuesday evening the Dickinson Public Library Board rejected public requests for the removal of a controversial book from shelves, opting instead to implement new control mechanisms.
DICKINSON — The Dickinson Public Library Board held a special meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22, to address the ongoing public discourse involving the presence of what some Dickinson residents are calling overtly sexualized and quasi-pornographic content on library shelves.
An October Dickinson Press article noted the concerns raised with a book, “Let’s talk about it: The teen’s guide to sex, relationships and being a human.”
The book has garnered backlash and support at libraries across the country, including at two libraries in North Dakota.
The meeting on Tuesday featured no opportunity for public comment as Library board members and Library Director Rita Ennen moved forward with a plan of action aimed at addressing the concerns.
The six member board responsible for decisions regarding library matters include John Odermann, Troy Kuntz, Paula Martin, Johnna Douthit, April Frank and Brian Kopp.
Frank said she had previously asked Ennen to present a plan to offer, “parental guardrails” for patrons who desired them. Ennen suggested utilizing a software available to K-12 schools and public libraries across the state called ODIN (Online Dakota Information Network).
The software would allow parents and guardians to impose restrictions on their children’s library cards that would require parental approval for a child to check out any and all materials in the library.
Board member and City Commissioner John Odermann delivered an emotional response to vitriol he says he has encountered over the weeks from residents of all political backgrounds as a result of his position on the matter. Odermann emphasized that he believed everyone in the room, regardless of their disagreements, was present at meetings on the issue because they cared deeply about the well-being of children.
“When I was first called by The Dickinson Press a month and a half ago I thought I gave a very, very strong, full-throated defense of the library and their staff. And I was attacked, I had people go after my job. I had people tell me that I shouldn't be allowed to work with kids, that I should resign as head football coach at Trinity,” Odermann said. “Talk about losing sleep. When your character is called into question, when all you’re trying to do is do the right thing.”
He added that he was proud of community members at the Nov. 8 meeting who made their arguments in a civil manner. He also posited the creation of a task force with people from both sides to review library content, pointing out that 106 other books have been brought into question.
“The reason I suggest the task force is that I don’t have time to attend 107 public hearings,” Odermann said.
Kopp defended the book, asserting that it provides crucial information to readers.
“I’ve learned through personal interviews, written and verbal testimony to the board, my own reading, including the book in question, that the harm comes from lacking the knowledge to understand one's own body, life situation, available assistance and social support. The vitriol that was exhibited by some people at the last board meeting aimed at (other) people in the room is a contributing factor to the degradation of the mental states, self-worth, body image and suicide rate referenced by folks in their testimony,” Kopp said. “Doing anything that would reduce the resources available to prevent needless suffering, and tragedy in our community, would itself be a tragedy.”
Later in the meeting, Martin motioned to house the book in the adult non-fiction section. Frank offered an amendment stipulating that this be delayed until the ODIN parental restrictions were made available.
Frank then suggested prohibiting minors from accessing inappropriate materials by placing certain books in locked glass cabinets, locked plastic sleeves or in individually transparent plastic containers that could be seen by all but opened only by library staff.
“It’s still on the shelf but it would restrict someone from just taking the book off the shelf and flipping through it without their parents being there,” Frank said.
This garnered applause from opponents of the material, many of whom expressed concerns that despite the sectioning of the book, children could still access it without having to check it out.
Kuntz and Kopp both expressed staunch opposition to locked covers of the book. Kopp questioned the legality of such restrictions and claimed they would unduly limit opportunities for people that he said he believes could benefit from such books.
“You don’t need a library card to go to the library and read a book. So effectively it’s limiting community access to the book,” Kopp said.
In a unanimous decision the board ultimately passed a motion to, “Move the book (Let’s talk about it) to adult non-fiction. Wait until ODIN kicks in their parental controls. If it’s longer than 30 days, then we’ll revisit it.”
In a phone conversation with The Press on Wednesday Ennen said she hopes to have the ODIN control system operational within a week, explaining that if and when the program is implemented parents seeking to impose restrictions on their child’s library card would have to come to the library and opt them in.
Ennen said this could also be done over the phone, with adequate verification of the adult patron’s identity. She noted that the restrictions would apply to online library materials such as e-books as well.
Ennen confirmed that the library had locked cabinets when she first took the director position in 2014, but that they housed books that were repeatedly stolen such as “Mein Kampf,” titles relating to Wicca and certain anatomy books.
Use of those cabinets was ended in 2016, and Ennen could not recall how the decision was reached.
After the meeting, County Commissioner Carla Arthaud argued that the measure passed was insufficient and does not address the issue of children having physical access to sexual content on library shelves. She challenged the efficacy of the limited controls passed by the board, and noted they did not prevent children from reviewing the materials without checking them out.
Arthaud said she took issue with Kopp’s statements and opined that the advocates of such books used bad-faith arguments to accuse conservatives of homophobia, transphobia and sexism rather than address the pornography they are freely providing to minors.
“A kid can still walk in, look at the book, take screenshots with their phone, do whatever they want, put it back on the shelf and leave,” Arthaud said. “It's 100% about grooming these children and people are putting blinders on… It's not about phobias. It's not about every ism that's out there. That's not what it's about. It's about protecting our innocent children.”