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Tense Dickinson Public Library Board meeting centers on controversial sex book

Advocates and concerned citizens filled the meeting room of the Dickinson Public Library Board meeting on Tuesday evening to debate the merits of the library director’s previous decision to offer a controversial teen sex guide comic.

Autumn Richard
Stark County resident Autumn Richard delivers remarks on why she opposes sexually explicit books being made accessible to children at the Dickinson Public Library.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — Last week The Dickinson Press reported that a graphic comic called Let’s talk about it: A teen’s guide to sex relationships and being a human, was soon to be on the shelves of the Dickinson Public Library. On Tuesday, nearly 90 members of the community attended the library’s monthly board meeting to debate the merits of the book.

The overwhelming majority of those in attendance expressed opposition to the book when an informal poll of the room was conducted. More than a dozen members of local law enforcement were on location as a precautionary measure as vocal opponents of the comic style book expressed their views that the illustrations were tantamount to pornography.

The Dickinson Public Library Board collectively notified attendees that the board members do not review books purchased for the library, noting that those responsibilities rest with the library director. Board members noted that until a complaint is filed and appealed before them, they are often unaware of concerns regarding the library's catalog.

DSC_5295 (2).JPG
A frustrated mother voices her concerns about "pornographic content" in the Dickinson Public Library.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

Several critics of this and similar books on catalog insisted they be banned from the library, while others argued in favor of control mechanisms to prevent children from gaining access — saying that such books should be kept behind the library counter and that minors should only be allowed access with the permission of a parent or legal guardian.

Stark County resident Autumn Richard, speaking to the board, highlighted several of the books she found on library shelves, including Naked: Not Your Average Sex Encyclopedia.

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“It provides detailed information about anal sex, oral sex, friends with benefits — which the book calls ‘f*** buddies,’ as well as an entire section devoted to educating his audience on the definition of fisting, glory holes, golden showers, cleaning, rim jobs and teabagging, just to name a few,” she said.

Richard noted that another book she found at the public library appear deliberately written for small children, including one called Yes! No! A first conversation about consent. That book offered illustrated nudity and explained where penises, vulvae and nipples were located.

Yes! No!
Two pages from the Dickinson Public Library children's book "Yes! No! A first conversation about consent."
Contributed / Autumn Richard

Richard then noted that while First Amendment freedoms allow for printed materials that some may find offensive, she pointed out that obscenity does not enjoy absolute protection as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in multiple rulings. She noted that the high court has established a metric called the Miller Test, and she argued the book is obscene by these parameters.

Reading from Cornell Law School, Richard noted that the Miller Test for obscenity includes the following criteria, “1. Whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’ 2. Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and 3. Whether the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Richard confronted Library Director Rita Ennen directly about her belief that a child of any age would be able to easily access books access books with graphic sexual content such as Naked or Let’s talk about it. Ennen argued that it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor what their children do in the library.

Later on in the meeting, one area father disputed the notion that parents should be expected to vigilantly monitor their child for the entirety of the time they’re at the library. He argued that the books in question were purchased primarily through the use of taxpayer funding.

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“This is vile, vulgar and completely unnecessary… I'm not following my daughters around in the library and looking at what they're doing. They're free to explore the information that's here. Isn't that kind of the essence of having a library to begin with? That you're safe to be able to come and figure out stuff about the world, to learn, etc.” the man said. “We have no say, other than maybe in a forum like this, we don't get to decide how much the county or the state gives to this library. We have no influence over how that money is spent. But we are the source of a lot of it.”

When one board member told Richard her time was up, the meeting became chaotic as several individuals yelled and attempted to talk over each other. Deputy City Administrator Linda Carlson brought the meeting to order.

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“You do have a right to speak, but we have a big audience here,” Carlson said. “That’s why we’ve asked for five minutes per person.”

Richard finished by explaining her general disappointment with the situation.

“When I walk into the front of this library, there are two benches. One says ‘Enriching the Community,’ and the other one says ‘Igniting Curiosity.’ I believe you have certainly ignited something today. But with these books, you are not enriching our community, but corroding our community while diluting our morals and values,” Richard concluded.

Igniting curiosity
A Dickinson Public Library bench is pictured.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

Dickinson woman Sarah Ramsey was the only member of the crowd to speak out in favor of the book.

“Sex has always been taboo. That is the reason we are all here. At a young age we are taught to be embarrassed and ashamed of the topic. Many parents fearfully anticipate the conversation with their children, or simply rely on the education system to do it for them,” she said. “The reason for keeping the book on the shelves to the public has nothing to do with exposing our children. Those who believe this book is targeted toward children are either too stubborn or too arrogant to look at the actual text.”

Ramsey also commended City Commissioner and Library Board member John Odermann for his comments in a previous interview.

Sarah Ramsey
Dickinson woman Sarah Ramsey argues in favor of a locally unpopular book.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

“Keeping books off the shelf is a dangerous and slippery slope. It's easy to create a strawman argument based on one's own repulsions versus the knowledge and topics of the book at hand,” she said. “Just as Odermann stated in his comments to The Press, I could easily contest that the Bible should be removed for its depictions of sex murder, rape, child sacrifice and so many other travesties brought on and encouraged by God. Now this isn't what the Bible is about but there's nothing keeping me from only placing it in that light to make my point.”

Ramsey argued that in the same vein of using parts of the whole to argue against the Bible, those in attendance and in uproar were not considering the entirety of the publication in question, noting the book's discussions on topics of sexual hygiene, body positivity and more were being overlooked.

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Ennen echoed Ramsey's sentiments in defending the book, arguing that this book was not telling or showing children anything they would be unable to find on their smartphones.

“As easy as it is to get together a group of people that think one particular thing, you can be so loud you will make it hard for anyone to express any other viewpoint. Just because they disagree with you, that does not mean that their viewpoint does not matter,” she said.

Ennen falsely claimed that the forms for patrons to file a complaint were not mentioned in The Press’ previous article on this matter.

Near the end of the meeting when one person asked if the book Let’s talk about it would be made available on shelves before the next board meeting, Ennen said it would, “remain on her desk and under review,” backtracking from her previous statement to The Press that her only deliberation was which section it would be placed in.

Dickinson Public Library board members stated that now that a complaint has been filed, the library director will make a determination on the book in question and if the complainant(s) disagree with the ruling of Ennen, they will review the matter and deliberate further at their next public meeting.

The Dickinson Public Library Board meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the library which is located at 139 3rd St. W. and library administrators can be reached at dickinson.library@dickinsongov.com, or by phone at 701-456-7700.

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Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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