Riverside President Joseph Ballerine offered support on Jan. 5 for Riverside Public Library officials who refused to pull the book "Gender Queer" from circulation after two residents objected to it. (Image courtesy of Riverside TV)

Four Riverside village trustees and the village’s president on Jan. 5 expressed public support for the staff and trustees of the Riverside Public Library, lauding them for resisting calls by two local residents to pull the book “Gender Queer” from the library’s collection.

Library Director Janice Foley informed library trustees last month that a committee of library staffers, including Foley, had informed the two women who requested the book ban that the title would remain in the collection, although it would be moved from the Teen Room to the adult graphic novel section.

Foley confirmed the ban request and the staff’s decision to keep “Gender Queer” in the collection would be an item in the library board’s Jan. 10 meeting.

Village Trustee Edward Hannon broached the subject of the book ban request at the end of the village board’s Jan. 5 meeting, commending library officials for their response to it.

“Given the topic of the book, transgender and queer topics, I like the idea that our library provides that resource for young people who are struggling, that they can go to our library and find that material to figure out ‘what are these thoughts in my head, why am I different, who can I reach out to,’” Hannon said. “And our library continues to be a resource for all people, any sort of education materials, and do so without fear.”

It became clear, however, that other trustees had also decided to comment on the subject, with at least two others, Trustee Megan Claucherty and President Joseph Ballerine, reading from prepared statements.

Claucherty cited American Library Association data stating that in 2022, book bans in U.S. schools and public libraries had reached their highest levels since the ALA began tracking that data more than two decades ago.

“These book bans typically seek to limit access to books that offer empathy, knowledge and power to young people,” Claucherty said. “And they disproportionately affect books by and about LBGTQ [individuals] and people of color.”

Ballerine, meanwhile, said the library board and staff had his “full confidence” and that it was not appropriate to remove a book that may be helpful to someone in the community.

“It should not matter if a book is applicable to me, or makes me feel uncomfortable,” Ballerine said. “It’s important to recognize the material may be helpful to other people in our community and, therefore, we should not be censoring materials.”

Trustee Cristin Evans also spoke in support of the library’s decision to keep “Gender Queer” in circulation, calling the request to ban it “disappointing” and “harmful.”

“The thing that bothers me the most is that it becomes a harmful discussion, even with all the support that we have here in the village for maintaining our collection,” Evans said. “There’s still a level of bigotry that is fueling this discussion, and that’s harmful to people, to kids that live in this town.”

 Trustee Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga complimented library staff for their “professionalism” in responding to the book ban request and pointed out “Gender Queer” was a recipient in 2020 of an ALA’s Alex Award, given annually to 10 book that, according to ALA website, are “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”