Colchester Officials Weigh in on Library Review of RuPaul Biography


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COLCHESTER — First Selectman Andreas Bisbiskos said in a post on Facebook that his request that a children’s biography of a drag performer be taken off the shelves of the Cragin Memorial Library was “never about censorship” and that the responsibility to respond to any formal complaint would rest with the director of the library. 

“The First Selectman plays no role in what books are purchased or displayed in our library. I was merely attempting to be responsive to a concern coming from a parent in our town. It was never the intention to permanently remove any books but to merely question if they belonged in the children’s section or the adult section; therefore, I reached out to our Director of Library Services,” Bisbiskos wrote in a Facebook post. 

On Monday, the book “Who is RuPaul?” a children’s biography of RuPaul Andre Charles, was removed from circulation after a parent complained to Bisbiskos about what Bisbiskos described as “sexually provocative drawings.” According to library director Kate Byroade, Bisbiskos called her into his office and told her of the complaint, at which point she informed him that she planned to follow library policy to address the complaint. 

Under the policy, patrons who have a complaint about a book must fill out a form in which they identify themselves, describe the reasons for their concern along with specific examples from the text, audio, or visual, and describe what action they would like the library to take. The patron is also asked to attest to having viewed or read the material in full. 

After library staff receive a complaint form, the book is temporarily removed from circulation for review — a process that usually takes several weeks as the librarians read through the entirety of the book and research the issue. Staff then produce a two-page, detailed response to the complaint.

“Hopefully they would feel heard and they would know they were taken seriously. I take this very seriously,” Byroade told CT Examiner.  

Byroade said that after Bisbiskos called her into his office, she decided to remove the book from the shelf in anticipation of a review. She said that if she had left the book in circulation another patron could have checked it out. Instead, Byroade said, she is keeping the book behind the desk and will allow any member of the community to see the book. 

“It’s not my job to parent your children. I’m here to foster a love of reading,” said Byroade. 

Byroade said that Bisbiskos also directed her to complete an inventory of all 26,000-plus books in the children’s section — which she said was a matter of running a report through a system — and then to conduct an audit of any potentially sensitive materials.

“I don’t know how quickly that could be accomplished practically,” Byroade said. 

Douglas Lord, president of the Connecticut Library Association, of which Byroade is past president and current chair of the association’s legislative committee, said that requests to have books removed from library shelves have become more and more common recently. 

“I think it’s inevitable that libraries get caught up [in] this,” he said. “What this says to me is that books are really powerful. Books have the power to make people learn, to make people have opinions or change opinions or foment discussion.”  

Lord, who is also the director of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown, said the association is “grateful” that Bisbiskos decided to “walk back” his initial statement. 

“It was a case of overreach,” said Lord.

Lord said that he has never heard of other complaints against the book “Who is RuPaul?” which is part of the bestselling “Who Is/Who Was?” series of children’s biographies produced by Penguin Random House. 

“It’s a high quality series that is very explanatory. Most of the time, honestly, kids are using it for a school report,” said Lord. 

Bisbiskos, a Republican, wrote in a Facebook post that he provided the parent who contacted him with a five-day window to file a formal complaint. Byroade said that if the patron doesn’t file the complaint within that time period, the book will be checked out to whoever has it on hold. 

If the person who complains is not satisfied with the library’s response, he or she can appeal to the Board of Selectmen, which then has the final say on the matter.

Selectman Jason LaChapelle wrote in a Facebook post that while he agreed the picture in the book was “sexualized,” it was up to parents to decide whether or not to allow their children to read the book. He also said it was critical to understand the context that the image was being used in — in this case, the cartoon was part of an ad for a line of make-up for which RuPaul became a spokesperson. 

“Just because one person finds something offensive it doesn’t mean we deprive everyone else from being able to experience it,” wrote LaChapelle, a Republican. 

LaChapelle also said that the first selectman overstepped his authority by asking that the book be removed. 

“Even if the book was grossly offensive, and not appropriate for children, the actions taken by the First Selectman are not actually powers he has,” he wrote. “Nowhere in that process does the First Selectman have unilateral power to demand entire wings to be closed, books to be removed from circulation, or audits of books to happen. That power rests with the Board of Selectmen, which the First Selectman is an ex officio member of.” 

Selectwoman Rosemary Coyle, a Democrat, told CT Examiner that she also disagreed with the idea of censoring books.

“I am a former teacher. I do not have an issue with the book, I think it’s an age-appropriate book in a children’s section. Parents can make decisions for their children. So I do not support the first selectman’s decision,” said Coyle. “In a time when people need to be sensitive to everyone and where tolerance is so important in our country, it needs to be an open process for anybody going to a library to find a book.” 

Selectwomen Deborah Bates, a Republican, and Denise Turner, a Democrat, did not respond to emailed requests for comment by the time this story was published.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.