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Joy Wandrey has been director of the Washington County Public Library since March. She came with plans to build the library as a resource for the community, and she said early on that she wanted to get the Hispanic community involved in using the library. Now, the effort to serve that portion of the community has brought concerns about materials purchased by Wandrey, and some of the new books she has purchased have already been pulled from the shelves.
Wandrey said Hispanic readers are accustomed to small, comic-like books known as fotonovelas. She said the books, which are published as a series and are similar to soap operas, had been requested by members of the Hispanic community. She said she was trying to meet those requests when some books with questionable images were delivered to the library. Wandrey said she ordered a sample package of the fotonovelas, but did not expect everything she received.
“This is what they (Hispanics) read. They are very popular with libraries all across the United States,” Wandrey said. “The only reason I think we had a problem here is that I was a little too trusting in ordering the sample package. I had talked to the man and explained to him that we were a library in a small community. He said he would get some sample material together, and I didn’t look through every single one of them.”
The books in question featured sexually explicit images, including nude adults in sexual positions.
Wandrey said she told a representative with the company where the books were purchased not to send racy titles. She added that when the books arrived, she showed them to the library board.
“I had shown them to my board and talked to my board. They didn’t take a lot of time to look through them, some of them. Some of them did,” Wandrey said. “I explained to them that if we want our Spanish speakers to get in here, to learn English, to become productive citizens, we have to have something to get them in the door, and these books will do it. Traditionally, libraries have always been a way to Americanize the immigrant population.”
The books were brought to the attention of the library board as well as the Washington County Fiscal Court, which appoints library board members. Wandrey met with library board chair Debbie Wakefield and Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles last week to discuss the books.
“The library is much like the airport board, the extension district or the health department. They have their own taxing district. Their board has the same right, just like the fiscal court or the school board, to take the compensating rate, the adjusted rate or the 4 percent increase,” Settles said. “That’s basically where my concern came from. I want our library to be used. I think it’s an essential part of our community, but I also don’t want to raise any more questions than we have to. I don’t want in any way to influence that board. They are appointed, and I believe that if they are appointed, they should be allowed to do their job. If we start interceding as elected officials, why would they even be willing to serve? I didn’t want to tell them what they should put on the shelves or they shouldn’t. I just wanted to bring up the fact that under our financial environment that the whole country is in, and our community is in, you don’t want to bring negative scrutiny to the library or any other special district - anybody that’s getting a tax from the people. I think some of this material apparently slid through.”
Wandrey said the particular series of books with the racy images have been pulled from the library shelves and will not be continued in the future, however other fotonovellas will continue to be purchased.
“I don’t buy racy material just to buy racy material. There are several sectors of our community that want and request that kind of material – we’re a public library, that’s what public means. We have to serve everybody,” Wandrey said. “Our collection is already unbalanced as it is. We have 10 times the Christian fiction of anything else that we have. We have four shelves of horror, Stephen King and the like. We have two or three shelves of science fiction and two or three shelves of fantasy. We have a fair amount of mystery, but we have way more Christian fiction than anything else, and that’s an unbalanced collection. My second or third week in here, one of the sisters from St. Catharine came and said, ‘Why do you guys have so much Christian fiction? This is an unbalanced collection. This is not right.’ So if even the sisters are saying there’s too much Christian fiction, we’ve got an unbalanced collection.”
Wandrey said in addition to the questionable fotonovelas, other books have also been removed from the library shelves based on their use by the public. She said the staff has gone through the library’s entire fiction collection and removed any books that have not been circulated five times or more in the life of the book and at least one time in the last two years.
“Unless it was a classic, it was going out the door because nobody was reading it and it was taking up space. We’ve got all kinds of requests coming in that we’re filling through our library loan and we’re buying new materials as fast as we can. We have no room for any of that, so that was for all the fiction, the entire fiction collection, went through the same exact standard,” she said. “I’m not out to have an unbalanced library. I’m out to reflect the needs of the community and have a balanced and up-to-date collection, and we didn’t really fit any of those categories very well when I got here.”
Wandrey said the non-fiction books have been reviewed as well, and books that were old, worn, or “just simply bad information” have also been pulled from the shelves.
“Somebody mentioned to us we didn’t have a King James Bible on the shelf. That was because it was in very bad condition, so we got rid of it,” she said. “We’ve got a new one on order. It’s coming. That means also, the minute we have Christian religious materials, we have to have materials for other religions. Once you represent for your public one major religion, you’ve got to get them all. That’s another tentative public library service.”
When asked about the community’s concerns with questionable materials such as some of the fotonovelas being purchased with tax dollars, Wandrey said the Hispanic portion of the community is also being considered.
“The fotonovelas, as far as ‘that’s not what this community would select,’ that is what the Hispanic portion of our community would select, and I have had requests for them. That’s what they’re used to, and most of them (Hispanics) haven’t seen one since they’ve been here.”
The library spends $400 each year on Spanish language comics for children, according to Wandrey. In addition, she said the sample package with the questionable materials came at a cost of $400, while an additional $600 will be spent for subscriptions for other fotonovelas.
“That’s about 3 to 4 percent of the adult fiction budget, and less than that for the children. The percentage of money spent on it is very in line with the percentage of Hispanics in the community,” she said. “I’m doing what I can do to get them (Hispanics) in the door, to make them better Americans, and get them to where they need to be to be a functioning part of this community. I think change comes slowly to a lot of places, and I think there are some people that probably aren’t real happy with this particular change with Hispanics coming here, but it’s happening everywhere. Everywhere.”
Wakefield, the library board chair, said the board met with Wandrey last week, and the questionable magazines have been removed.
“After reviewing the magazines in more depth, the board determined that it should remove the displays from the magazine rack and place them in the adult fiction section of the library,” Wakefield said. “The magazines with the more adult pictures will no longer be ordered.”
Wakefield noted that the board did receive complaints about the fotonovelas prior to meeting with Wandrey.
“We researched the issue and resolved this potential problem immediately and in a positve way,” Wakefield added. “With computers in just about every household, it’s very hard to keep people coming through the (library) doors. Joy has many good ideas on how to increase circulation and some of those ideas have already been put into place and have been successful. The board has commended our director in her efforts to outreach to all people in this community and we have encouraged her to continue her efforts to increase circulation in the library.”