After a week of public outcry against two Lycoming County commissioners who asked the library to remove a gay pride book display, the James V. Brown Library executive director said there are no plans to remove the books.
“Our perspective is that libraries are for everyone. It is really important that every single human has equal access to all information, no matter who they are or what they believe in,” said Barbara McGary, executive director of the library.
McGary said there is a formal process to dispute books at the library and that the form and process were given to Commissioners Tony Mussare and Scott Metzger when they visited the library on Tuesday, June 8.
“To this date, we have not received any formal statements from them,” she said.
Metzger also said that no official request from the county commissioners was submitted to the library.
A statement from the library said that, according to the Library Bill of Rights, “libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
During last week’s commissioners meeting, Metzger and Mussare said local residents had seen the display and were incited to speak out against it.
Conversely, McGary said the library has received many comments from patrons thanking staff for the display.
“So many families with children that identify as LGBTQIA+ told me they value these books and resources and are grateful they are welcome in their public library,” McGary said. “I want to make it very clear that every person should feel welcome, valued and honored at the public library.”
Speaking to a packed meeting room at the Tuesday morning commissioners meeting, Metzger and Mussare addressed the many critics of their comments last week, as well as a Facebook post on Metzger’s personal page after the meeting.
“I will not make an apology for my values and for who I am,” Metzger said. “I treat people fairly, honestly and without any disregard or disrespect.
“We’re fine with the decision; it’s their decision,” Metzger said of the library. “We will stand on our values, we will stand with our constituents. That’s our duty.”
He added that the decision to bring up the books in the showcase was in response to other county residents who had first brought up the issue to the commissioners and asked them to look into it.
According to Metzger, the county gives $1.3 million to the James V. Brown Library each year, and both he and Mussare said it was their responsibility to look into how a publicly funded organization spends its money.
“When it comes to taxpayers’ money, it is our responsibility to bring things forth,” Mussare said. He also added that while he did change his mind on a few of the books, others that spoke specifically about transgender children, he said, should be taken off the display and placed back on the shelves.
“Books that encourage kids to make sex changes at a young age should not be allowed,” he said.
Over 30 members of the public spoke to the commissioners during the meeting’s public comment period. Many were outraged at Metzger and Mussare, likening their words to the efforts of Nazi Germany as books were shunned and burned.
“Removing books that you object to from the display in the children’s room is not a way to help those young people,” said Mary Sieminski.
John Shableski, who said he works in the publishing industry, cautioned that words matter and can often incentivize people to violence.
“If you disapprove of a book that is in that library … you file a complaint and move on… we live in a time where those words inspire people to spread hate,” Shableski said.
Others who spoke at the meeting ranged from retired librarians, gay individuals, and teenagers who came out to their parents at a young age. All said that having books about gay and transgender individuals in the public library is nothing to be concerned about.
Other members of the community also came out in support of the library, including the local NAACP chapter, the Lycoming County Libertarian Party as well as local businesses like Sawhorse Cafe, which helped raise donations, and AIDS Resource.
A community petition saying that Metzer and Mussare are no longer fit for office has garnered nearly 500 signatures.
At Tuesday’s meeting, a select few spoke in support of Metzger and Mussare, saying they agreed with the suggestion to remove the display, adding that issues of sexuality should be handled privately by parents or guardians in the home.
“We should not make public the private lifestyle of others and show them as an endorsement,” said Don Peter, a Jersey Shore pastor.
Individuals on both sides of the issue called for calm, civil discourse. Many said that even through disagreement, individuals should be respectful and understanding.
“Let’s make our community a tolerant and inclusive one,” said Amanda Waldman.