OLD LYME — Amidst broad community disagreement regarding the appropriateness of two illustrated sex education books, and petitions signed by hundreds of citizens both for and against, the Board of Trustees of the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library decided Tuesday night that the books meet the library’s collection development policy for inclusion in the Teen/Tween collection.
In a closed meeting, the trustees reviewed “You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things” by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth and “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan.
Regarding the books, the board released a statement Tuesday night, that the library “recognizes that many materials are controversial and that any given item may offend some patrons.”
“The Board has affirmed its policy that selection of materials will not be made on the basis of anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the basis of the principles stated in the policy. Library materials will not be marked or identified to show approval or disapproval of their contents, and no material will be sequestered, except to protect it from injury or theft,” the statement read.
“Young people must be middle school age to visit the Library unaccompanied. Parents should assume unaccompanied youth have full access to the Library and all its collections – including the adult collections. Limiting access to content is the responsibility of the parent. If you feel you need to accompany your child to the library or any particular collection, we welcome and encourage your presence.
“The Board of Trustees fully supports each member of its staff and condemns wholeheartedly the inappropriate and unwarranted censure of professionals we believe are doing their jobs with the utmost professionalism,” the statement concluded.
Straight to the appeals process
Library Director Katie Huffman told CT Examiner on Tuesday that the library has a formal process for reconsidering items, which includes her review and subsequent appeals to the library board.
In this instance, Huffman said, the library skipped the initial review given the volume of community response to the material.
“I received an email on June 4 from a parent concerned about a 7th grade field trip to the Library scheduled for June 8. The email stated general concern about graphic novels in our collections and did specially mention the book, ‘Let’s Talk About It.’ The next communication about the book was the formal letter dated June 16 with over 130 signatures,” Huffman wrote in an email.
She told CT Examiner that “given the nature of the letter, the number of signees, the board chose to go immediately into the appeal process because of the nature of the letter – it wasn’t a single form submission by an individual. It warranted board [attention] and letter was addressed to the board, so the board is treating it as an appeal process.”
Steve Spooner, an Old Lyme resident and member of the Old Lyme Republican Town Committee, had led a petition drive to the library’s board of trustees and officers concerning the age appropriateness of “Let’s Talk About It” for the Teen/Tween room.
“Let’s Talk About It” contains graphics (often accompanied by detailed direction) on how to masturbate, have sex, conduct anal sexual activities, give and receive oral sex, with the catchy, upbeat suggestion “Things to Try!” It also directs readers that ‘a great place to research fantasies and kink safely is on the internet! There are tons of people and communities who share your interests and have all kinds of advice,’” the petition stated.
“We do not believe that this material is in any way sex education and it is unbecoming of our community values… To be clear: we are not advocating banning any books. We are mindful of the conversations taking place nationally. Our concern is specific to the age-appropriate content within the Teen/Tween room …. We request a proper review of the materials in the Teen/Tween room in hopes that no other content like this is available in that space,” the petition stated.
Spooner, alerted “like minded parents” in a June 1 email, questioning who at the library was screening the books and approving them for inclusion in the collection.
“What measures are being taken to ensure that young children not be exposed to books like this? Is this book and others like it included in LOLMS or LOLHS libraries? Is it wise for LOLMS to partner with Phoebe when such books are being offered to young people in their spaces?” Spooner wrote.
In a June 5 letter to Spooner, members of the library board explained that since creating the Teen and Tween room in 2019, the library had expanded its collection of sex education books, among other topics.
Huffman told CT Examiner that the library houses two distinct rooms for non-adults: the children’s room and a room housing the “teen and tween” collections.
“We used to refer to them as a young adult collection. They have stickers on them that say young adults, but there’s been confusion over the years about what that is. So our policy explicitly clarifies teen and tween and we define that as middle and high school aged youth.”
She said that in Lyme Old Lyme Schools, middle school is sixth, seventh and eighth grades and high school is ninth through 12th.
Huffman said the library follows the same policies and procedures for the teen and tween collections as for other collections in the building.
“We take into account professional publications. We do rely on reviews, from professional resources, such as Publishers Weekly, the School Library Journal, Library Journal book lists, Kirkus Reviews, etc. We also pay attention to bestseller lists, we pay attention to what is popular in neighboring libraries, and in our library in terms of what people are reading, what content they’re interested in, as well as accepting and reviewing for consideration direct requests from patrons,” she said.
Huffman said she could not track exactly what sources led to the purchase of the books in question.
“We order thousands of books… and I can say that both of those books were very favorably reviewed,” she said.
She said that library policy outlines the intent of the teen and tween collection including the type of content the library curates for that space.
“The other thing is there’s a very significant and well established genre of material for middle and high school ages. That’s well established in the publishing industry, and our content, our teen collections reflect that.”
The politics of sex and books
Before the board decision was announced on Tuesday night, Spooner told CT Examiner in a phone call that he and citizens who had signed the letter were looking forward to the board’s decision, but that he was frustrated the issue had become politicized in Old Lyme.
“The thing I would say is – one – I certainly appreciate the deliberate thought of the library officers and the board, appreciate their willingness to hear that concern, and hopefully, they’re very thoughtful about that. And, we look forward to seeing what the outcome is irregardless of the outcome. We appreciate your efforts,” he said. “And – two – it’s just been very disappointing to see the issue of graphic adult imagery being offered to teens and tweens become a political football in such a small town.”
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Randy Nixon, chair of the Old Lyme Republican Town Committee, said he stood by his June 7 letter to CT Examiner as the committee’s statement on the issue.
In his letter, Nixon said that Old Lyme Republican Town Committee members had been personally attacked after several members signed the June 16, 2023 letter of petition, and that the committee “saw this as a legitimate concerned parent and citizen right matter, not a political issue.”
In his letter, Nixon wrote that “Our concern is specific to the age-appropriate content within the Teen/Tween room.”
In a statement sent to CT Examiner Tuesday afternoon, Mary Jo Kelly Nosal, chair of the Old Lyme Democratic Town Committee, wrote:
“The position of the Old Lyme Democratic Town Committee on censorship is evident from the Freedom To Read Rally we sponsored in April of this year. I am confident that the Old Lyme Democratic Town Committee respects the judgment and professionalism of the trained Phoebe Griffin Noyes library staff. The library has a well thought out Collection Development Policy as well as a comprehensive Child Safety Policy to ensure that the library provides a safe and enriching environment for the whole community.
The efforts to second-guess the decisions of those trained professionals because some individuals do not agree with the content of a few pages of a certain book are disheartening and reflective of a broader national movement to limit ideas. The Phoebe Griffin Noyes staff deserve our respect and I am confident that the Old Lyme Democratic Town Committee stands with them and against those trying to limit access to important information for our teens.”
This story has been updated to include additional images, and explanation of the teen/tween collection
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a July 12 email from Huffman in which she corrected her earlier statement that the first communication the library received about “Let’s Talk About It” was the letter signed by 130 community members.