Early last summer, a Smith County resident entered the Tyler library to learn why their official request for purchase of a recently published biography was declined.

The front desk staff was hesitant to help except via email. The patron explained they had made a special trip to inquire in person with the decision-maker. A librarian reluctantly came downstairs. When asked the reason for the purchase decline, the librarian stated, “It’s fake news and misinformation.”

“But it’s a biography about a former cocaine addict who overcame addiction and started a foundation helping addicts. How can that be fake news?” the Smith County resident asked. 

As others learned about the situation, a citizen launched an investigation on how the Tyler library operates. The findings are:

  • Obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit publications are purchased and available to minors, even small children.
  • Neglect to focus on United States national holidays. (i.e., according to American Library Association guidelines, there was a month-long observance of gay pride month in June 2021 that extended into July … and no observance of 4th of July.)
  • Christian religious holidays are downplayed or ignored and replaced with secular acknowledgement.
  • Historically, libraries across the nation have fiction books in a fiction section shelved alphabetically by author’s last name. The Tyler library separates fiction by “Christian” publishers, shelving them at a distant, upstairs, hard-to-locate wall section. Residents report never seeing fiction segregation in any public or school library anywhere in other states.
  • Review of displayed magazines, newspapers, and periodicals reveal bias favoring historical figures and authors representing leftist narratives like Marxism, critical race theory, non-heterosexual sexuality, liberal Democrat political views, one-sided climate theories, and more. 
  • The head librarian, Ashley Taylor, solely maintains final say on which library materials are purchased or removed. Smith County patrons are questioning whether Taylor is paid by taxpayers as a community librarian or a leftist activist.

 

Citizen research revealed enormous imbalance in how the $1.8 million in forced taxpayer funds are spent. Smith County is about 70 percent conservative, yet library practices and acquisitions do not reflect the community consensus in views of history, science, the nation’s Constitution, nor in morals and values.

The Tyler library board and staff were surprised when 50+ residents attended the December 8, 2021, board meeting held at the library. City attorney Deborah Pullum, stated, “We’ve never had this many people attend a library board meeting.” A lengthy line of residents spoke on agenda topic “library programs” for two hours. One local father, Craig Licciardi, showed graphic sexual content from a book for ages 10+ found in the children’s section, titled “It’s Perfectly Normal.”

Licciardi added, “The library board was initially unwilling to let us speak until they were informed of the Texas House Bill 2840 (which nearly unanimously passed both the House and Senate), requiring public citizens’ rights to speak and address the board. We had to argue for the right to speak and not be censored.

“Many residents in attendance were shocked and had no idea such pornographic materials were available to children in our library,” Licciardi added.

Texas House Bill 2840 states:

A governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.

The January 26, 2022, library board meeting was relocated to Tyler City Hall and had standing room only. Speakers presented differing views on whether sexually explicit materials should remain in the children and teen section. 

Testimony from self-acknowledged members of the LGBTQ community advocated keeping sexually explicit materials available for children and teens. Outnumbering them were citizens who did not describe their sexual orientation and requested that obscene materials be removed from children and teen sections. 

The public expressed concerns based on scientific and criminal facts that exposure to obscenity and pornography can result in dangerous, addictive behavior akin to cocaine addiction and that pedophilia, rape, and other sex crimes are rooted in pornography.

Printed or visual pornography containing explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activity is intended for erotic stimulation rather than aesthetic. “Pornography depicts sexual acts intended to create sexual arousal according to Texas Penal Code 2125. Non-protective parents exposing minors to pornography would lead to a CPS investigation,” said Jessica Wortham, Smith County Child Protective Services prosecutor. “Children have been removed from their parents in Texas due to pornography exposure, which often leads to other crimes against minor victims such as drug use, domestic violence, and sexual abuse,” she said. 

Wortham added, “In addition to facing imprisonment and fines, convicted offenders of federal obscenity laws involving minors may also be required to register as sex offenders. In some circumstances, obscenity violations involving minors may also be subject to prosecution under federal child pornography laws, which yield severe statutory penalties.” (For more information, see Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Federal Child Pornography Laws.)

On February 14, 2022, Smith County patron Robin Lee filed an official Book Reconsideration Request with the librarian, asking for removal of “Blue is the Warmest Color,” a graphic novel depicting explicit lesbian sexual activity. 

After record-breaking attendance at the December and January library board meetings, the librarian delayed reconvening the board until June 1 at the Tyler Liberty Theatre. The meeting’s purpose was to receive citizen input on the graphic novel “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which is displayed downstairs where materials are accessible for children and teens. 

“Delaying the next meeting until June 1 was an odd response to growing community interest and involvement,” said Lee. “It is unfortunate when an organization decides to have less community engagement rather than more. The library does not want their foregoing conclusions interrupted. Moving the board meeting to a large theatre-style room can be intimidating to county citizens desiring to express their views, and [it] appears as a bullying tactic to me.”

“Basic decency is in our favor. Cartoon-depicted sexually graphic content is pornography and must not be provided by taxpayer dollars,” said Lee. “I am not saying the book should not exist, but it’s not right to buy it with taxpayer dollars. I picked this book as an obvious example and easy road toward changing library policy about their definition of pornography,” she said.

The book’s film version is rated NC-17. “NC-17 succeeded the now-outdated X classification rating for movies. Movies that receive this rating are considered too adult in nature for any children to see. No one under 17 is allowed into the movie. NC-17 movie qualifications mean it goes beyond the scope of an R-rated movie in portraying the themes in question.” 

Lee’s book reconsideration request was denied by the librarian, which is why it was brought before the board for public comment and a final board vote on June 1. Consensus by local citizens was expressed at the meeting that the library should demonstrate the priority of serving our local public, but citizens differed on the opinion of whether obscenity and pornography should be permitted in a publicly funded facility.

“I am here today because I was told there are attempts to ban books. A good library has something that offends everybody,” said local business owner Jennifer Koohane. People need to educate their own children, not censor literature,” she said.

“I am at this meeting to see why this book is an issue. Removing books should be a last resort. Different ideas deserve exploring even if we don’t agree with them,” said Charles Parkes III. 

“Banning books and censoring ideas is immoral,” stated citizen Russ Kincaid.

Local prosecutor Sara Maynard, whose children grew up using the Tyler library, said “I am here to ensure our tax dollars reflect our local values. We need transparent, public availability of proposed books and materials prior to purchase decisions.”

“Our children’s innocence deserves protection. Our library has inappropriate materials designed to groom minors. Why did the library staff cease holding public meetings since January? They stopped holding meetings to avoid hearing local public opinion and to avoid facing the issues,” said Jackson Hug.

Citizen public statements were presented. Speakers likened library book removal to Stalin-style, Hitler-esque banning and burning, while others claimed banning is the government forbidding any access to a publication, which is a different issue from the taxpayer-funding dispute. 

Police intervened when yelling and vulgarity occurred, forcing two attendees from the theatre. The meeting concluded with a board vote to retain the book in the library. One dissenting vote was by board member Dee Chambliss, who wanted the book removed. Chambliss said that “taxpayer money should not go to purchase this type of material.” 

Does pornography in the local library teach children that adults in the community think such material is okay for them? The next stop is the Tyler City Council, to request an ordinance declaring cartoon depictions of graphic sex acts as pornography.

This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

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