When a Challenge Becomes Personal

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, Challenge Reporting, GLBTQ

By: Pat Peters and Courtney Kincaid

In May of 2015, Hood County Library in Granbury, Texas, found itself in the middle of a censorship attempt that led then-Director Courtney Kincaid to leave that library for both professional and personal reasons. Courtney shared her story with me:

“Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you’ve got to fight it.”
― Judy Blume

OIF Blogger Pat Peters (PFP): Give us a brief overview of the challenge you faced and the steps that were taken on each side.

This Day in June by Gayle PitmanCourtney Kincaid (CK): In Hood County Library, Granbury, Texas, May 15, 2015, a mother found This Day in June by Gayle Pitman on our children’s New Book display. She asked that we remove the “New” sticker and take it off the display. The book was returned to the New Book area, and the same mother came back four days later and checked out the book. When I returned to the office from vacation a few days later, I learned that she had complained about the book, so I set up a meeting with her.

We had been friendly with each other. She had served as a reference on my application to be the library director. I had helped her two young boys learn to love to read. Her young daughter would visit with me in my office at least once a week and I would give her a few M&Ms and we’d look at my boxer dog calendar together.

My Princess BoyThe meeting didn’t go as well as I thought it would. She did not like the illustrations or words used in the book. She also checked out My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis and took the two books to a local political meeting for discussion. The books were also discussed at some local churches.

The Reconsideration Process
On June 1, ironically the start of LGBT Pride Month, the mother brought in 52 Request for Reconsideration forms. Of the 52 forms: 38 asked to ban the books, 9 asked to move the books, and 5 did not complete that specific section. One of the forms submitted was from a city council member. There were also two requests to burn the books, and two of the forms were anonymous.

On June 8, the Library Advisory Board held a hearing for the public regarding the books. Twelve people requested to pull the books, but none of them signed up to speak. Fourteen people requested to keep the books, and nine of them signed up to speak. Three people did not specify their preference. The board unanimously voted to keep the books and composed a letter to me with their suggestion.

I planned on trying to find some middle ground with the community, so I wrote to the author, Gayle Pitman, for some insight. I explained to Ms. Pitman what was going on and said that, because I could view her book as a teaching tool, considering all the information and discussion in the back of the book about LGBT history and community, I planned on moving it to the adult non-fiction area. Ms. Pitman replied, “I’d like to see TDIJ in the picture book section […] but librarians know their communities better than I do, and that is the goal, to maximize access to books.” (Personal message from the author, 07/10/2015)

The Appeal
Unhappy with the decision to keep both books, the political group and its supporters took this issue to the Hood County Commissioners’ Court on July 14. Over 200 people, including media from the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin area, showed up for the three-hour court session. A group called Liberty Counsel sent a letter of support to the Commissioners’ Court members. According to their website, Liberty Counsel is “an international litigation, education, and policy ministry” with a “historically Christian and biblical” perspective. This group offered their services pro bono if the court took action against Hood County Library. The court did not vote on the issue as this meeting was simply a public forum.

The Policy Hearing
The Library Board and I had been working on revising our policies for about a year, and we were waiting to finalize the book challenges so that we could finish that particular portion of our policies. After our policies were approved by the Library Advisory Board, I took them to Commissioners’ Court for approval. Typically, these would have been brought in under the consent agenda, but for “transparency reasons” I was asked to present the policies and discuss all the changes and additions so that this political group could provide feedback. The group wanted more time to review and add their comments and edits to the library policies, so the vote was tabled to allow them more time.
After some back-and-forth between the political group and the Library Advisory Board, the policies were finally approved by the Commissioners’ Court on October 13, 2015.

From beginning to end, this was a 21-week battle.

PFP: All our training as librarians tells us not to take challenges personally. Where in the process did this situation become personal for you? What form did the personal attacks take?

CK: Unfortunately, this situation became personal rather quickly for me, first because I’ve known the challenger and her family for many years, and second, I was being harassed and followed by members of this political group as well as by a politician’s wife. The group had someone sit and watch the circulation desk every day. I never knew who liked or disliked me because of this issue. Even going out to lunch was a gamble because I didn’t know if my food would be tainted in anyway by someone who disagreed with my decision to keep the books. Whenever I would leave the library, be it during my lunch time or running an errand for work, I was followed. Some of them told the court members they thought I was transgender.

Going into the court session regarding the book hearing, there were protesters with signs. Throughout the three-hour court hearing a couple behind me kept kicking my chair, leaning up towards me and calling me “stupid.” This was an immature act, for sure, and more annoying and absurd than hurtful. Also during the court hearing, it was said by the mother that I was breaking the law, and the judge said that if she thought that, she could talk to the sheriff about getting me arrested. So, she did speak with him afterwards. I was afraid I would really be arrested although there was no reason for me to be. The sheriff explained that there were no grounds on which to arrest me.

PFP: How did the personal aspect of this situation impact you professionally? How did it impact you outside the workplace?

Courtney KincaidCK: It created a lot of stress for me. Thankfully, I can handle stress pretty well and was able to stay professional throughout the process. When I felt overwhelmed, I reorganized my thoughts, ideas, projects, etc. I remember one time feeling so stressed and overwhelmed that I just shut my office door and organized the massive binder I had in dealing with this issue. That one small task helped me center myself and my mind for a bit. We even had someone impersonating the library calling people in the community and telling them that they had a “block” on their library card because of unpaid fines. The callers asked for their credit card numbers. I still don’t know who did that, but it was not the library. Also, I served on a couple of boards in town. I started to receive visits from people I served with on these boards. They said, “Come on, Courtney. You’re smarter than this. You know, medically, being gay is wrong, right?” I promptly resigned my positions on these boards.

Personally, since the mother and I had been friendly, it enforced a continued separation between work and my personal life. I have an extremely supportive husband who accompanied me to the court hearing. One of the hardest things to deal with was that I thought I was shielding my daughter, who was almost 12 at the time, from the stress and all the issues I was facing. It turned out, people are correct: Children know when their parents are stressed, overwhelmed, or just not happy in general. So this took a toll on her as well.

In the end, I’m actually thankful I went through this process. It helped me grow professionally: I received a couple of awards (the I Love My Librarian Award in 2015 in New York City and the 2016 National Intellectual Freedom Award: Honorable Mention from NCTE), received a wonderful job opportunity as the assistant library director at North Richland Hills Library, and became the 2017-2018 chair of the Texas Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee.

PFP: Looking back on this entire situation, do you believe there is anything you could have done differently to keep the matter from escalating? If so, what might that have been? If not, why do you believe nothing you could have done would have changed things?

CK: I did try to find some sort of middle ground with this group. However, there was no pleasing this group until they had it their way, and that was not an option I could give in to and keep a clear conscience. I stood with the law and for the freedom to read. I had tremendous support from ALA’s OIF, specifically Kristin Pekoll. With her help and the legal opinion from the Hood County Attorney, Lori Kaspar, it was apparent we had the law on our side. I would not have done anything differently if given the chance.

PFP: What have you learned from this experience that might be helpful to someone facing a similar situation

CK: I learned so many things during this challenge! Like I mentioned before, this was a grueling experience, but I’m so thankful I went through it.

  • I learned to listen to the patron with complaints, no matter how unreasonable their comments may seem.
  • I learned to make certain the library’s policies are ready to handle a challenge of this magnitude. Unfortunately, our policies had not been approved by the Commissioners’ Court, but instead only by the Library Advisory Board. When I became director, we started researching, reviewing, and rewriting the library policies. Once again, I’m glad this situation happened because we were able to develop the library policies more thoroughly.
  • I learned that sometimes you just have to shut your door and organize yourself and your information.
  • I learned to have your facts memorized and printed up, ready to share with the court members, city council, newspapers, and news anchors.
  • Finally, I learned that as long as I was able to stick to the facts and stay professional, I would be fine.

If you find yourself facing a similar situation, please remember to contact your local supporters and the following organizations.

Local/State:
Your local Friends of the Library group
City Council / School Board / Commissioners’ Court
Other librarians
Your state’s Intellectual Freedom Committee

National:
American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director, kpekoll@ala.org, 312-280-4221
Challenge Reporting Form
National Coalition Against Censorship
Report Censorship Page
American Civil Liberties Union
Request Legal Assistance from your Local ACLU Affiliate
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
How to Manage Challenges Page

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. I hope librarians will read this and evaluate whether they are prepared to handle a challenge. If not, this will give them a jump start to do so. I’m happy to help others going through a challenge or just give emotional and mental support.

PFP: Courtney, thank you for your courage in facing this censorship attempt professionally, even when it became all too personal. We appreciate your story and your advice to others.

 


Courtney KincaidCourtney Kincaid is the assistant library director at the North Richland Hills Library in North Richland Hills, Texas. Previously, she was the Children’s and Young Adult librarian/assistant director for 2.5 years at Hood County Library then was the library director there for five years. She got her start in libraries as the assistant librarian in Dublin, Texas and was there for almost three years. Ms. Kincaid received her MLS from Texas Woman’s University as part of the Professional Education for Librarians in Small Communities (PELSC) cohort sponsored by the Institute for Museums and Library Services and the Tocker Foundation. She is the recipient of the 2015 I Love My Librarian award and the 2016 NCTE Honorable Mention for the National Intellectual Freedom award. She can be reached on Twitter @ckthelibrarian.

One thought on “When a Challenge Becomes Personal

  • Thanks for what you did, Courtney. It sounds like it took a toll, but you did the right thing and you didn’t hesitate. Thanks for fighting censorship.

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