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    Huntington Beach to use community review board to vet children’s books for sexual content
    • October 18, 2023

    Huntington Beach will soon have an appointed community review board that could reject new children’s books that are deemed inappropriate, a move critics are calling a book-banning system.

    The City Council majority decided to create a 21-member community review board that has oversight of children’s books in city libraries. Its powers include rejecting, by a majority vote, new children’s books the library staff wish to obtain that “do not meet the city’s community standards of acceptance” and reviewing books already in circulation if they should be moved from the children’s section.

    Councilmember Gracey Van Der Mark is behind the push. The three other conservative councilmembers joined her to pass the contested proposal Tuesday night in a 4-3 vote.

    Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark listens to public comments during a city council meeting on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Each councilmember will get three appointments to the board.

    Scores of vocal residents denounced Van Der Mark’s resolution, calling it a book ban.

    “If you don’t procure something, what are you doing? You’re banning it,” said Jeff Lebow during public comment.

    The Council Chambers at City Hall were filled with people and many had to sit in an overflow room. The public comment period went over five hours, with residents bringing signs that called the proposal government overreach.

    The resolution mandates that no city library allow children direct access to books or other materials that contain “any content of sexual nature.” It will require a parent or guardian’s consent to access those materials, whether they are intended for children or adults. Books with sexual content will be moved out of the children’s section.

    Mayor Tony Strickland argued against the other councilmbers and residents who see the resolution as a ban. “We are not removing any books or restricting any books. It’s been said before; It’s not a ban.”

    The councilmembers who voted for it continually said during the meeting that they don’t see the move as a book ban. Councilmember Natalie Moser, who voted against the proposal, expressed numerous concerns with it, including that the city was putting itself in legal risk.

    “Those seeking to impede access to collections and dictate how library workers do their jobs are doing so to silence and obscure the voices and perspectives of those whose opinions they feel do not have a right to full and active participation in American society,” Moser said. “While the protection of our community’s children is paramount, this resolution is not the way to achieve it.”

    Related links

    Here are 5 books people have asked the Huntington Beach Public Library to remove
    Huntington Beach wants options for making it harder for children to access sexually explicit books
    Huntington Beach councilmember wants law to screen out ‘pornographic children’s books’ from city libraries

    The First Amendment Coalition, the ACLU of Southern California and the Freedom to Read Foundation said in a letter to the City Council that creating a review board violates the First Amendment. The groups said the resolution, taken literally, would prohibit children from accessing literary classics such as “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

    “While no one can be forced to read a library book to which they object, no one has the right to subject, through force of government, the entire community to their narrow and arbitrary view of what books are acceptable for minors of any age to read,” the groups said.

    The groups also warned in their joint letter that the proposal would negatively affect LGTBQ youth and overall called it unconstitutional.

    The nonprofit Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library released a statement ahead of the meeting that they oppose book bans in the city’s library system, saying individuals have the right to determine what’s appropriate for them and their families to read, not a government-appointed committee.

    Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, city staffers had presented possible policy updates for the library to make, separate from Van Der Mark’s resolution. Those changes include a new library card that would require parental permission for checking out adult books and updating processes for book recommendations for children and families.

    Van Der Mark asked Community and Library Services Director Ashley Wysocki, who gave the staff presentation, if any books were going to be banned from the library. Wysocki said: “I think there are a lot of perceived ways books can be banned, and so until I better understand what the direction from council is, I don’t know that I can answer that.”

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    ​ Orange County Register