'The Queer Bible' display sparks controversy at library
RIDGELAND — Several books being displayed prominently at the public library here including “The Queer Bible” have drawn the concern of citizens over the political nature.
“We understand that there are lots of books on the library shelves that may have content we may be opposed to but the display of those books makes a political statement,” Ridgeland Gene F. McGee said Friday.
One of the books in the displays that has drawn criticism is a collection of essays edited by Jack Guinness called “The Queer Bible.”
Another is “As a Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy after I Transitioned” By Paula Stone Williams. The description on Amazon says that the books is a memoir of a transgender pastor’s transition from male to female.
Other titles include “Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story” by Julie Rodgers, “the Name I Call Myself” by Hasan Namir and “People of Pride: 25 Great LGBTQ Americans” by Chase Clemesha.
McGee said that the city is holding its annual payment to the library system while attorneys for the city and the Madison County Library System hash out a new agreement.
McGee said that he has received between 15 and 20 complaints objecting to the books that were on prominent display at the Ridgeland branch over approximately the past three months.
“The individuals who complained were upset that the books displayed put out a certain political agenda they did not want their children exposed to,” McGee said.
The Ridgeland Public Library of the MCLS is also known as the Elsie E. Jurgens Library and is located at 397 Highway 51.
McGee said that the last agreement with the library was approved in 2009 and that that contract would not be valid because the city has held three elections since then and contracts approved by each board can be voided or renegotiated after a new board is appointed.
McGee said that the amount in question is $110,000.
The funds do not have a due date, though it must paid within the fiscal year in which it is budgeted, McGee said.
The fiscal year ends in September. McGee said that to his knowledge the payment has never been made a the beginning of the year in a lump sum payment.
McGee said that the city also owns the building the library is housed in and maintains the property as well as contributing a large amount of ad valorem tax money to the county coffers.
The issue will likely not go before alderman until the second meeting of February. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. at Ridgeland City Hall. The agenda for the Feb. 1 meeting is available online and does not include any agenda items that mention the library.
Library Director Tonja Johnson said the county Library Board posted a statement labeled “Statement on Freedom of Information” Jan. 26 on its website. That statement says:
“The Library Board and staff gladly serve all the people of Madison County with a wealth of cultures, religious beliefs, and views,” The board approved statement reads.
“The library’s collection is for people of all ages, races, gender identities/expressions, and orientations. Our books are not only a mirror to reflect our community but a window into different worlds and different experiences that enable us to learn. Our materials are available for all. Censorship has no place here in Madison County Library System. Our library is for everyone.”
It goes on to quote the library system’s “material Selection Policy.”
“The public library is the institution in our society that attempts to provide a diversity of viewpoints on a wide range of topics of interest, including political, social, and religious ones—no matter how controversial or objectionable those ideas may be to some people,” the highlighted policy reads.
It goes on to say that, “Because of this, the Madison County Library System chooses materials representing different points of view, limited only by our selection criteria, budget, and the space in our facilities.”
“The primary objectives of the Madison County Library System are to collect, organize, produce, and make easily available materials of contemporary significance and of long-term value. The Libraries will always be guided by a sense of responsibility to both present and future in adding materials that will enrich their collections.”
The statement ends with a quote attributed to MCLS Board of Trustees President Jerry Valdez.
“We look forward to continuing our tradition of excellent library service in Madison County,” Valdez said
Johnson said that she hopes the issues “is resolved soon” so that they can issue a further statement or provide an update. Johnson said that the library “stands by what has been reported.”
Branch Manager of the Ridgeland Library Kristen Hillman referred to the statement made by the library board on the county library system’s website.
Hillman was able to confirm that no formal complaints had been submitted about the books in question though some patrons had made verbal complaints to staff. She said that a form is available through the libraries to submit a formal complaint.
Hillman also said that the books in question were part of a display of new books in the libraries collection. She said that their policy is to display new books for three months and then they are cycled into the regular collection of the library.
She said that all of the books in question are currently checked out and are not on display at the library at this time.