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Fontana Regional Library moves teen guide on sex and relationships to adult section after special board meeting

The Fontana Regional Library Board meet on June 5th for a special meeting.
Lilly Knoepp
The Fontana Regional Library Board meet on June 5th for a special meeting.

The Fontana Regional Library board of trustees voted not to remove two books from circulation that received requests for reconsideration at a special meeting in early June.

More than 30 people filled the community room at the Jackson County Public Library to hear the board discuss the future of two books housed in the Hudson Library in Highlands, Macon County. There was no public comment during the meeting, but audience members shouted questions and comments throughout the 30-minute meeting.

The two books up for a vote were “Nick and Charlie: A Heartstopper Novella” and “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human.”

Both books were requested to be removed or moved to the adult section.

Board member Ed Trask from Nantahala, Macon County motioned that “Let’s Talk About It” be removed from circulation. There was no second so the board moved onto the next vote. Trask was the first to motion to move the book to the adult section.

“This book is garbage. Period,” said Trask citing oral sex definitions and illustrations in the book along with references to sexting, or the practice of sending sexual messages by text.

Trask quoted North Carolina laws against sexting – as it falls under child pornography laws if those sexting are under the age of 18 - minor sexting and obscenity laws as part of his reasoning for the removal of the book.

Board member Wood Lovell of Highlands, Macon County seconded the motion.

“We shouldn’t have young children or young adults read this book, so I would vote that it be moved from where it is now to the adult section,” Lovell said.

Chair Ellen Snodgrass pointed out that libraries, churches, museums and schools are protected places within that law.

The law lists exceptions to the obscenity law as those where “a school, church, museum, public library, governmental agency, medical clinic, or hospital carrying out its legitimate function.”

Cynthia Womble of Bryson City, Swain County was the only other board member who spoke in favor of the book. She said her 20-year-old son had read it when he was in high school, because it was listed as a reference during health class.

“I don’t really want them [kids] searching terms and things on the internet and it being targeted at adults, so I would rather them read a book targeted at teens. I also would rather have my son come to me or my husband to talk about these things but I’m savvy enough to know that most kids don’t because it’s embarrassing and the last people you want to talk about that with is usually your parents,” Womble said.

“If we think that kids are not having sex at the age of 13 then we are deluding ourselves,” she continued.

The vote was 5-2 to move the book to the adult section.

More than 30 people attended the special meeting in Sylva to hear the reconsideration requests.
Lilly Knoepp
More than 30 people attended the special meeting in Sylva to hear the reconsideration requests.

“Nick and Charlie” is an LGBTQ+ teen romance set in the United Kingdom. There was no motion to remove the book, and Trask was the only board member who made a motion to move the book to the adult section. Because there was no second to the motion, the board did not vote on the book.

Both books will remain in circulation.

Dianne Catlin and her husband Bodie drove down from Highlands to attend the meeting. They have been involved in conversations about the library for months.

Catlin says her concern is for children.

“You just give them matches to play with and say, ‘let’s see what you want to do with those. That is our concern and all we are doing is multiplying,” Catlin said. “Because they will not listen and they will not let us speak. That is so un-American.”

Bodie, who serves as precinct chairman of the Republican Party in the Highlands, said they got involved with discussions about the library after reading three of the books listed as most challenged on a book mark from the library was given to them at church. He read, “Lawn Boy,” “Gender Queer” and “Let’s talk about it.”

“It is absolutely, absolutely disgusting,” Bodie said. During the meeting, he asked the board member if they knew what one of the terms in “Let’s Talk About It” meant, and if they did, how could they keep it on the shelf.

“All those people said they read the book. There is a terminology that I’m not going to use with you right now because we are in mixed company but there is a terminology called, 'rimming.' Okay, that is in that book,” Bodie said. “This board is not representative of the people in this area at all.”

Changing library policies

Audience member Bill McGaha of Franklin asked the board if keeping the books in circulation meant children could still check out the books. Fontana Regional Library’s director Tracy Fitzmaurice replied that they could, with parental supervision.

Fontana Regional Library’s “safe child policy” states that children under the age of eight must have parental supervision at the library.

Fitzmaurice told the crowd the library is researching a children’s library card.

McGaha and his wife brought a schedule of when each Macon County Library board member will rotate off the board to the meeting. After the meeting, McGaha told the audience to talk to him about how to sign up to be on the board.

Bill McGaha of Franklin explained that the library board is crucial as they make the decisions about requests for reconsideration.
Lilly Knoepp
Bill McGaha of Franklin explained that the library board is crucial as they make the decisions about requests for reconsideration.

“As we saw here tonight, they make the decisions about what stays and what gets moved. And that makes it critical,” McGaha said. “We have no ability to do anything beyond what they are willing to do."

The board is comprised of three representatives from each of the three counties: Macon, Swain and Jackson. Each member is nominated to the regional board from the local library board. The local board representatives are nominated by the county commissioners.

During the meeting, the library board also updated their reconsideration policy to move the votes to the next scheduled board meeting instead of to a special board meeting. Snodgrass said the move was more convenient for scheduling.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.