Siloam Springs residents fired back at the removal of 11 books from the Siloam Springs Public Library during the public comment portion of the city board meeting on Tuesday, March 7.
The books were taken out of the library by former City Administrator Phillip Patterson following comments made by Derrek Arce during the city board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Patterson went to the library went to find the books and learned that Arce had checked out the books. While at the library, Patterson found another book that was considered offensive by Family Council, a conservative pro-family organization. Patterson checked out that book and got the other 10 books from Arce.
Several people commented on the issue. Stacy Bingham said she and her family are frequent patrons at the library and said her kids understand that books do not dictate their decisions.
"My kids understood, even at a young age, that just because they read a book about a hungry caterpillar, that they would not in fact become a caterpillar," Bingham said.
Bingham spoke about the Library Bill of Rights, which was drafted in 1939 to speak out against growing intolerance, suppression of free speech and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals, she said.
She also asked how anyone can justify that the books in question could be unacceptable when the novel "50 Shades of Gray," which was considered explicit, sat on the library shelves.
Shohreh Noorbakhsh spoke about the books and how she did not approve of the books being on the library's shelves.
"I don't believe in the material that's there right now in those that was shared about last week," Noorbakhsh said. "It's not about any group of people. It's about what our children need to learn. They need to learn pure and holy and righteous things."
Noorbakhsh said she is not against any lifestyles but believes children do not need to be exposed to things like that at such a young age.
Mayor Judy Nation said she thought many people were at the meeting because of the library book issue and asked if Patterson, who was already going to speak on the subject in his administrator's report, to go ahead and give his report.
Patterson said he had reached out to Arce and obtained the books from him on Feb. 23. He then met with Stephanie Freedle, the library manager, and Don Clark, the community development director, whose department is over the library as well as City Attorney Jay Williams.
Patterson requested some information as to when the books were placed in the library. According to an email, the library books have come in at different times:
"L8r, g8r" came in before 2013.
"Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World" came in August of 2017.
"I am Jazz" came in September of 2020.
"All Boys Aren't Blue" came in March of 2021.
"May the Best Man Win" came in June of 2021.
"The ABC's of LGBT+" came in September of 2021.
"When Aidan Became a Brother" came in October of 2021.
"This Book is Gay" came in April of 2022.
"What's the T? The Guide to All Things Trans and/or Nonbinary" came in June of 2022.
"Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure" came in July of 2022.
"I was Born for This" came in November of 2022.
Two of these books "L8r, g8r" and "When Aidan Became a Brother" are on the Family Council's list of books that they consider obscene, the list states.
Patterson also said Senate Bill 81 (SB81), which would help to regulate potentially offensive materials in libraries, failed in the House Judiciary Committee and that the bill would require to establish a policy for selection, retention or removal of books.
"I don't know if it's going to be brought back or not," Patterson said. "But in reviewing that process, that bill established a very what I felt like and feel like is a very reasonable process for someone who has a concern about a particular book to question whether that book is appropriate or not."
Under the process, if a person found an item in the library questionable they would request a meeting with a librarian Paterson said.
After the meeting if the person wanted to file a formal challenge they would do that and the challenge would be reviewed by a committee of library personnel who have knowledge related to the context and also a diverse viewpoint, Patterson said.
The committee would review the material based on the criteria of selection, and the material in question would not be removed solely based on the viewpoints expressed within the item but would be reviewed in its entirety and not selected portions taken out of context, Patterson said.
After the committee reviews the material, the person would be allowed to meet with the committee and express why they feel the item needs to be removed, Patterson said. The committee would then withdraw and decide whether or not to remove the item or just relocate it, Patterson said.
The majority of the committee would have to issue an opinion to the person either by hand or by certified mail, Patterson said.
If the book is not removed, the person would have a period of time to file an appeal and that appeal would go before the governing body of the city, which in the case of Siloam Springs is the city board.
After Patterson finished, four other speakers took their turns at the podium. Arce spoke against the books while three others spoke about the need to keep the books on the shelves.
Following the public comment, the city board approved and heard the following items:
Regular meeting minutes for the Feb. 21 meeting.
Resolution 16-23 regarding a special use permit for 411 North Broadway Street.
Resolution 17-23 concerning a special use permit for 315 West Harvard Street.
Budget amendment to the 2022 city budget for miscellaneous purchase items.
Contracts and approvals
A mowing contract with Custom Lawn Care in the amount of $66,000.
Placing Ordinance 23-03 concerning amending Chapter 22 of the business code relating to mobile food vending on its second reading.
Withdrawing Ordinance 23-04 regarding short term rentals.
Placing Ordinance 23-05 concerning amending the city municipal code relating to self-storage facilities on its first reading.
Placing Ordinance 23-06 regarding the rezoning of the 21000 block of South Arkansas Highway 16 from I-1 (Industrial) to P-D (Planned development).
Resolution 18-23 regarding a significant development permit for the 21000 block of South Arkansas Highway 16 East.
Year-end financials for 2022.
Vote to terminate the contract of Patterson.