In late September, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office in Gillette, Wyoming received a report alleging criminal activity at the Campbell County Public Library. Several community members who had been challenging several LGBTQIA+ books in the library’s collection alleged that the library board and library director had committed a crime by disseminating obscene material to minors. They claimed that the library violated Wyoming Statute 6-2-318, which states “anyone who has reached the age of majority and who solicits, procures or knowingly encourages anyone less than the age of fourteen years, or a person purported to be less than the age of fourteen years, to engage in sexual intrusion.” Violation of this law would result in a felony conviction and a maximum five-year sentence. The alleged illegal act was having books in the library’s young adult and children’s section that discussed reproduction, sex, and LGBTQIA issues. The main books at issue were:
- Dating and Sex for the 21st Century Teen Boy by Andrew P. Smiler
- Doing It!: Let’s Talk About Sex by Hannah Witton
- Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings and You by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
- How Do You Make a Baby? By Anna Fiske
- This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Opposition to books about LGBTQIA-related issues is nothing new to the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF). In fact, eight out of the top ten most challenged books in 2019 were challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, with another challenged for sexual overtones. OIF Assistant Director Kristin Pekoll outlines a variety of terms and actions that typically take place for such books in the post, “What is a ‘Challenge?’” Under intellectual freedom, every individual has the right to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. The ALA Library Bill of Rights adds that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” Typically when an individual or group opposes materials, they simply challenge it, which is “an attempt to have a library removed or access to it restricted.” This could lead to censorship or even a ban/removal of materials.
Campbell County Public Library had been dealing with challenges to LGBTQIA-related books since the Summer of 2021, when the library shared a social media post highlighting several LGBTQIA+ titles in the teen collection for Pride Month. Throughout the Summer and Fall over 27 books were challenged and library board meetings became contentious. Unprecedented, however, was the call for criminal charges to be brought upon the library board. Due to a conflict of interest – the Campbell County attorney’s office would be investigating one of its own county departments (the library) – the community members’ complaint was directed to the neighboring Weston County Attorney, who was appointed special prosecutor.
Weston County Attorney Michael Stulken stated he declined to pursue any charges against the library. In a letter to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, Stulken describes that the law refers to those who encourage someone “to engage” in sexual intrusion. Because the materials are disseminated to the general public, there is no “engagement.” He also states that with regards to obscenity, the books at issue are not obscene as defined by Wyoming Law and may have scientific value. The full letter can be read below.
A full overview of the Campbell County Public Library protests has been compiled by the Associated Press.
David Sye is a Research and Instruction Librarian at Murray State University in southwestern Kentucky. He is liaison for the History, Political Science & Sociology, and Psychology departments, as well as teaching instruction sessions and credit-bearing courses on information literacy. He holds a BA in History from the University of Illinois at Springfield, in addition to an MA in History and MLIS from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Prior to working at Murray State University, he has worked in public libraries and briefly taught middle school social studies.