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Book challenges continue at Phillips Public Library where organizers push to cut funding

Erin Gottsacker

At Phillips Public Library, several children’s books are under challenge.

Some community members are concerned that the content is sexually explicit and want library staff “held accountable”.

This isn’t the first time that books have been challenged at the Phillips Public Library.

For the past two years, the library has been embroiled in a culture war stemming from national conversations on race and sexual identity.

WXPR first reported on book challenges at Phillips Public Library in September, 2022.

A group of community members have consistently organized to challenge books in the children’s department.

The latest book to receive challenges isGender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

The 2019 graphic memoir, which follows the author’s experiences coming out to friends and family as a teenager, is the American Library Association’s most challenged book of 2022.

In public comments at their March meeting, Joe Fox addressed the library’s board.

“The community and parents, in particular, do not feel comfortable bringing their children to this library as long as Jake and Becky continue to push and provide sexually explicit and pornographic material to our children,” he said.

The ‘Jake’ he’s referring to is Jake Wyrzykowski, children’s librarian, and ‘Becky’ is Rebecca Puhl, director of the library.

This is Eric Kann in the public comments.

“I want the board to stand firmly against the director’s dangerous assault and [the] negative direction she continues to champion regarding our children and our grandchildren. I'm not saying I'm banning the book. I just don't want it in my library.” he said.

This is Lynn Morris in the public comments of the meeting.

“I do speak out against the immoral and pornographic books Ms. Puhl believes belong on our public library shelves. I have every right to disagree and to express my heartfelt and Christian concerns over disgusting and sexually explicit children's books,” she said.

However, not all community members agree.

This is Shirley Smith.

“The tactic they have settled on is trying to bully the librarians into doing their censoring for them by making them fear for their job security. Gender Queer is sexually explicit, but it does not fit the definition of ‘porn’ as sexual situations with no other redeeming features,” she said.

“LGBTQ teens should have books available to them to help them deal with sexual identity issues. This attempt to bully the librarians is also an attempt to bully every Phillips public library patron across every age.

Organizers have called for cuts to the library’s funding, which director Rebecca Puhl says can’t happen.

Her circulation is down, which impacts library funding.

“These are people who say they care about the library and say they want the library to exist in 30 years. I don’t know,” she said.

At the end of the day, Puhl asserts that nothing in the Phillips Library is pornographic.

“As a public library, I don't collect pornography. We know that a book bought through our regular publishing channels, that is a best seller, that is winning national book awards, is not pornographic or obscene,” she said.

Now, the ACLU of Wisconsin, a prominent legal defense and civil rights organization, is getting involved.

Last month, they requested records from the library of all the books challenged and decisions made thus far.

WXPR reached out to representatives at the organization but have not heard back.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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