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Controversy at Fort Benton library

Controversy at Fort Benton library
Posted at 7:16 PM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-10 11:25:20-04

The Chouteau County Library system is under fire after an Instagram post featured a book series, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.

The Instagram post came from a book feature account from the Chouteau County Library Director, Emily Wicks. She uses the account to feature the books on the page before posting them to the official Instagram account of the library.

“There have not been any calls for books to be removed from the library at all, but to be moved to a different area in the library,” Wicks explained.

Concerned citizens attended the Chouteau County Library Board of Trustees meeting on April 26 at the Geraldine Library.

An unusual-sized public comment section, 25 in attendance to voice concerns about the book’s patrons having access to.

“We have had some concern from members of the community with the materials that we have available at our library and materials that are on display at our library. They feel that tax money shouldn't maybe be spent on these materials, or they should not be easily accessible to all patrons.” Wicks said, “…comments from the trustees meeting were that we are trying to normalize LGBTQ+ behavior… that by having them here and by advertising that we have them that it somehow makes it an okay thing, which is an okay thing.”

The Heartstopper series is a coming-of-age style graphic novel, following two boys through high school and their friendship. A graphic novel means it’s written in a comic book-style format.

It can be found in the young adult section of the library which is an age range of 12-18 years old. Many of the books in this section are large “chapter” books that Wicks feels young children don’t find of interest compared to the Children’s area which is home to age-appropriate books, toys, stuffed animals, and computers.

In the Young Adult section of the library, the Heartstopper can be identified with a rainbow sticker on its binding, marked “LGBT.”

At the public comment portion of the April 26th meeting, reported by The River Press, Kirsten Brady of Highwood voiced her concerns.

“I’m a mother of young children and I want to voice my concerns that when my children go to the library, they are not seeing things or coming across things that I wouldn’t want them to come across without my bringing it to their attention and talking to them about it,” adding, “I want to go into the library feeling safe that I’m not going to have conversations that I wouldn’t want them to have at their young ages.”

In a letter to the editor of the River Press, Christy Byle of Fort Benton who identified herself as an employee at the Treasurer’s Office at the Choteau County Courthouse had three main concerns:

  • The safety and inclusion of all library patrons.
  • The showcasing of sexually explicit LGBTQ+ books.
  • The Professionalism of the library staff.

Byle wrote to her first concern that the cat that resides in the library is a health concern and liability to the library and it should be removed. To her second point, she believes strongly in the First Amendment writing, “The library should be a safe place for children to go enjoy themselves – exploring the world through pages and not having their innocence stolen.” To the third point, she believes the library staff has not been respectful on social towards those who think differently in the community.

While other letters to the editor commended the library staff for what they offer to all walks of life in the community.

Nancy Lachapelle of Fort Benton shared at the library meeting, “They live in our communities and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to go into the library and see themselves and check out books that deal with things that they’re trying to deal with,” adding, “ LGBTQ+ youth ages 10-24 are four times more likely to commit suicide from not being seen and bullying.”

The Chouteau County Library staff is working diligently to create a plan of action moving forward with the concerns of the public.

Kim Hibl, a Library Board Member told MTN News that they are brainstorming and working with the state to find a way to combat the said issues.

“I invite everyone to come into the library and just see what we have to offer. Check out a program and see what books you might find a book that you want to read that you didn't know that we had here.” Said Wicks.

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