The librarians from Moon Township, Pennsylvania, were shocked by the calls they received after a picture book “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” a parody of “The Wheels on the Bus” was shared on the Facebook page of the children’s section. The calls included threats of violence and referred to the librarians as groomers and pedophiles. The librarians called Moon police, who recorded the scene in case it got worse. The effects of the December 2021 social media post, which has since been taken down, have been felt throughout most of the past year, leading to stagnant funding for the township despite cries for more funding from library staff and indications from elected officials that there will be little to no progress in finding a new building. Public libraries have come under intense political scrutiny from parents and community members who are concerned about books that make references to race, gender identity, and other issues.
The CEO of the Allegheny County Library Association, Amy Anderson, stated that there were at least five difficulties at public libraries around Allegheny County last year. These regional problems are mostly reflective of global patterns, with more than 1,650 distinct books challenged between January 1 and August 31, 2022. A year ago, a Tennessee school board decided to ban “Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust, due to what they claimed was inappropriate content for students. Since then, several state legislators have studied legislation that would choose which books are acceptable for school libraries with an emphasis on material that they deem to be “sexually explicit.” Pennsylvania’s educational districts have also received concerns, with Norwin School deciding whether to replace the fifth-grade students’ reading assignment “Al Capone Does My Clothes” by Gennifer Choldenko next month. A guideline aimed at “sexualized content” in school libraries was passed by Central Bucks over the summer.
Bills from states like North Dakota are increasingly focusing on public libraries, and individual libraries are being affected by local decisions. Moon Township Public Library was established in 1981 and serves the suburban area of Robert Morris University and expansive homes. Its children’s area is jam-packed with garlands in vibrant colors and plush animals like the pigeon from the children’s book “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” It has more than 5,700 books for kids, 33 of which have LGBTQ characters. Little Miss Hot Mess, a board member of the national nonprofit Drag Queen Story Hour, received criticism for her performance of “The Hips on the Drag Queen” which resulted in tense conversations between library board members and township supervisors. The discussion has centered on whether or not the book was on display in the library, but Emmerling remarked that the still-available book has never been there “since it is always on hold and checked out.” Supervisors asked more questions about the library books at a meeting in November, but the drag queen book was not mentioned.
Heather Panella, the director of the library, responded by saying that she abides by the moral guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Library Association and the American Library Association, and that treating all materials equally would be censorship. The Mt. Lebanon Public Library and other local libraries follow this set of rules, and the director and the librarians in Moon are responsible for supporting these values. The library board’s composition has changed over the past few years, with four of the seven board members selected by supervisors rather than library board members. The Moon Township Municipal Authority-owned structure houses the Moon tax office, and the library and the authority are under a 10-year lease. Officials at the library have debated whether to renew their lease, buy a new building to house the library, or construct a brand-new one.
To maintain their operations, library administrators are asking for a 20% increase in township financing and additional cash. Emmerling’s key concern is how to maintain a productive working relationship between the library board and township supervisors while also understanding the demands of a public library. A stalemate appears to exist here.
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