‘I’m not real proud’: St. Marys public library gets new lease by removing LGBTQ books for kids
ST. MARYS — The public library in St. Marys has managed to hang onto its lease for one more year by removing all of the youth-oriented LGBTQ books from library shelves.
Library director Judith Cremer said the decision was the result of her efforts to work with the city commission, which has been threatening the library’s lease for more than a year.
Cremer said the adult section of the St. Marys location still contains some LGBTQ books, but in the junior collection, there are “probably not” any books left that contain LGBTQ content.
“I’m not real proud of that. … I feel bad because I think that there should be a variety of things for everybody, but like I say, we do have eight locations and I can get anything for anybody within about a day,” Cremer said. “So that’s a compromise I have to make.”
“I’m just trying to be realistic in the fact that we do have a precarious position here,” she added.
The St. Marys library is the headquarters for branches in more rural communities within Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.
Cremer described the titles that were removed as “pretty mild” and “nothing that isn’t normal in mainstream society.”
A six-person library advisory committee is in charge of evaluating books. One of the committee members searched “gay,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “queer” in the library’s catalog to find books the committee wanted to review. They then read the books before determining which ones needed to be physically removed from the library premises.
They removed about a dozen books, including “Squad,” “Blood Countess,” “The Great American Whatever,” “Beyond Clueless,” “Red Rolls of Magic,” “Infinity Son” and “Icebreaker.”
“Most of these titles, the topic really isn’t LGBTQ or anything like that,” Cremer said. “It’s just describing a reality that is normal now for most people.”
Cremer has been working with the library advisory committee over the past few months in an attempt to appease city commissioners who threatened to pull the library’s lease because of religious-based objections to LGBTQ books. While the commissioners have no governing influence over the library, the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library would be forced to find a new location if the lease weren’t renewed, giving up a community spot it has held for decades and depriving St. Marys residents of easily accessible library material.
The regional library has locations in Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, with county residents funding the library through taxes. Books removed from St. Marys were sent to these other locations.
The St. Marys location has struggled to work with members of the Society of St. Pius X, an extreme religious sect that has become a major influence in the small city of St. Marys. An estimated half of the library committee members have ties to SSPX.
All five of St. Marys’ city commissioners are tied to SSPX and have said their religion shapes their views, which includes an ongoing campaign against LGBTQ content. Some have characterized the library campaign as an SSPX attempt to dominate the last public space in St. Marys not already under its control.
Commission member Matthew Childs, who currently serves as the mayor, authored a lease renewal clause last year that demanded the library remove all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves. Facing intense public pressure, the commission in December dropped the clause and renewed the lease for one year.
But as public pressure faded, the commissioners renewed their fight against the library in the spring, arguing that LGBTQ content, such as transgender “garbage,” needed to go.
“My goal is to terminate the lease with the library,” Commissioner Gerard Kleinsmith said during an April commission meeting. “If they want to have their library, so be it. Go do it. Find another building to do it in. … I will not ever vote for any taxpayer money, facilities, anything to be used anywhere that houses this kind of garbage.”
Kleinsmith is meant to serve as the liaison between the city commission and library advisory committee.
During a Nov. 7 meeting, commissioners agreed to renew the library’s lease for another year.
“They’ve been doing some good work,” Kleinsmith said. “They’ve gotten 12 books that have been removed from the St. Marys library. … They’re going in the right direction.”
Childs said the library’s actions showed they were able to work as a community.
“That was the question in the first place really, ‘Why don’t we work as a community?’ And it looks like we’re doing that. So that’s a win,” Childs said.
It’s uncertain how many more books could be removed from the library in the future. When asked if there was a line she would hold if the committee continues to ask for more removals, Cremer said it would depend on the decision-making process.
Her priority is hanging onto the St. Marys location, she said, because she feels city residents need the library.
“We need to protect all of our areas of information, so that when people need that information to make decisions about their life, we have that information available,” Cremer said. “I know that and that’s what I’m striving for. But I do have to compromise to keep the doors open.”