For months, a group of conservative Christians has inundated the staff and board of a public library in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, with complaints about books they didn’t want to see on the shelves.
Their list of over 400 titles focuses primarily on young adult books featuring LGBTQ characters, scenes describing sexual activity, or evoking the occult.
The only problem: none of the books are in the library collection.
Yet the activists in this city of 2,500 inhabitants wanted to prevent the books from being banned. They were outraged that the library was planning to join the American Library Association, a nonprofit trade organization known for its fight against censorship that falsely accused local activists of “promoting pedophilia.” They started a campaign to recall four out of five library managers over policies against restricting access to controversial books, by putting up signs in the city that read: “Our mission is to protect children from explicit material and grooming.”
The fervor has become so heated that the library director is resigning after just nine months, citing a barrage of harassment that she said made it impossible for her to do her job. Kimber Glidden, 51, a former bank manager turned librarian, said the stress got so bad that she developed a tic that caused her thumb to twitch uncontrollably.
In Glidden’s August 16 resignation announcement on Facebook, she stated that “nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, harassment tactics and threatening behavior currently being practiced in the community.”
“They don’t know what comes next. They just want to burn it down and they’re doing it right,” Glidden told NBC News.
Donna Capurso and Adrienne Norris, two of the organizers of the trustees’ recalls, did not respond to requests for comment.
“We want a strongly written policy that doesn’t allow the library to order materials involving sexual acts,” the group stated on Facebook this month, adding that the American Library Association has “brainwashed our libraries” into believing this is a matter of first amendment.
The fight in Bonners Ferry over which books are allowed in the Boundary County Public Library echoes the fights that are unfolding in libraries across the country. Conflicts over literature discussing sexuality and containing explicit passages have moved from school board meetings to library board meetings as conservative and far-right activists call for a ban on books, Pride Month displays and membership in the American Library Association.
In August, a Louisiana librarian was nearly fired after speaking out against censorship. Local officials in a Texas town suggested the public library could be evicted if it did not reconsider complaints about LGBTQ-themed books in the collection. And a group of conservative residents in a Michigan town successfully campaigned to deny funding to the local library after the board said it wouldn’t ban books, an effort that far-right activists on Facebook and Telegram have supported as inspiration.
According to the American Library Association, efforts to censor material in libraries and schools across the country rose to 729 last year — more than double the typical number of book challenges in previous years, targeting 1,597 books. More than a third of censorship attempts in 2021 took place in public libraries, prompting some libraries to ban Black History Month and Pride displays, while others were closed due to harassment from LGBTQ staff.
“It’s wrong for one parent to dictate what information is available to an entire community, which can have the effect of negating the diversity and variety of identities already living in that community,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who oversees maintains the activities of the association. Office of Intellectual Freedom.
“By God’s Standards”
In Bonners Ferry, where about 78% of voters in 2020 supported former President Donald Trump, the library was a gem in the community. The Library Journal, a trade publication, named it the Best Small Library in America in 2017, honoring its 3D printer, laser engraver and milling machine, as well as computer and smartphone tutoring for the elderly, and free virtual classes with NASA scientists.
The conflict over controversial material began in March, when a handful of local residents approached library officials with a list of books from the right-wing website Growing Freedom for Idaho that they wanted removed from its shelves. Librarians replied that they had none of those books and had no intention of stocking them any time soon.
Lee Colson, one of the trustees of the Boundary County library, said he thought the end of their complaints would be to inform them that the library didn’t have the books, but “then it seemed to change.”
Activists were outraged at board meetings after Glidden, the library’s director, said she would order some books if enough customers asked for them. They demanded that the board approve a policy promising not to order controversial books, or — if they did — put them in an adult room so that children aren’t “accidentally exposed” while browsing library stacks. They asked the library to rate books “by God’s standards and not by the standards of the world,” according to emails obtained through open record requests.
“What they expect from us is to say we’re never going to get a book that personally offends them, which is pretty hard to define, and not really the point of the library,” said Colson, the trustee.
Activists also cited a bill, HB 666, that the Idaho House recently passed but died in the Senate. The bill would have removed an exception in state law that protects employees of schools, museums, universities and libraries from prosecution for “distribution of material harmful to minors.” The intent of the exemption is to protect educators, curators, and librarians from criminal charges for explicit or bold art and literature that they consider valuable.
Supporters of a book ban argued that HB 666 was necessary because the Boundary County library “hidden” behind the exemption. But opponents of the censorship disagreed.
“They would rather no one have access to books than one or two people have access to gay content or content written by people of color,” said Jessica Tingley, who has organized demonstrations in support of the Boundary County Library. .
‘They spread lies’
Glidden, who previously worked at a library in neighboring Sandpoint, Idaho, started as Boundary County library director in December and revised the policy to ensure it was up to date.
In June, the board of trustees voted to update the rules for selecting materials, which should reflect a variety of views in the titles on the shelves. The updated material selection policy also promised that the library “will not place materials on ‘closed shelves’ or label items to protect the public from their content.” It was passed by 3-1 votes, with one member absent.
Then the pressure mounted.
Capurso, a real estate agent and activist, staged a rally in July to organize a recall from the library administrators, accusing board members of voting to expose children to “adult-only material” without listening to “We the People’ about their actions in favor of their votes.”
“We must prevent this travesty being proclaimed by the far left, not just here, but across our country,” Capurso, who calls himself a “patriot journalist,” wrote on a blog affiliated with the American Redoubt, a far-right migration movement. seeking a safe haven in the northwest for conservative Christians.
At least three times in the past three months, a woman has blown a shofar outside the library, according to Glidden and security footage obtained by NBC News. (Shofars, usually made from ram’s horns, are part of Jewish traditions, but Christians are increasingly using them as a message of spiritual warfare.)
Glidden said people have falsely accused her of “taking care of children for pedophiles”, and that her staff has gone to eat and shop in neighboring counties to avoid conflict. Critics of the library have called the Facebook censorship conflict a “spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of children.”
“They spread lies, they destroy lives, and they do it with impunity,” Glidden said. “They put on this cloak of religion, but I’m not sure which god they worship.”
Library administrator Kenneth Blockhan, who said he considers himself religious, said he was concerned about the amount of discussion about LGBTQ issues in public school curricula. But he said he was alarmed by the call to ban books from the public library and believes it is part of a larger movement to impose Puritan standards on the community.
“The library is not a nursery,” he said. “As a parent, you are responsible for selecting books for your children to read. It is not the responsibility of the library. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids don’t get a hold of the bad stuff or whatever to sit there and read.”
At the library’s Aug. 18 board meeting, two days after Glidden announced his resignation plans, several people reiterated their complaints about how Glidden and the trustees handled requests for book bans. Several people quoted Bible verses and warned board members and Glidden that they are bringing a curse on themselves.
Glidden said she plans to stay until Sept. 10. She said she and her family are still planning where they will go, but she swore it wouldn’t be a red state.
“This is a government-funded library,” Glidden said. “That means what they’re going to eventually demand of me is ultimately against the Constitution,” she said, referring to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. “I’d rather be someone accused of having bad books than violating the Constitution.”