LGBT book display at West Fargo library sparks complaints

WEST FARGO - Two North Dakota legislators have criticized a West Fargo Public Library display of LGBT books and a Facebook post used to promote it. The resulting controversy has created a small media firestorm.The library mounted the display of 2...
The West Fargo Public Library posted this photo of a display of LGBT books on its Facebook page, igniting controversy. Special to The Forum

WEST FARGO - Two North Dakota legislators have criticized a West Fargo Public Library display of LGBT books and a Facebook post used to promote it. The resulting controversy has created a small media firestorm.

The library mounted the display of 24 books on LGBT topics in early August in anticipation of the Fargo-Moorhead Pride celebration, which was held Aug. 10-13. The library also posted a photo of the display on its Facebook page, promoting it and another display on books about people of color with the phrase, "Looking for the perfect last days of summer read?"

"I find it very surprising that the West Fargo Public Library would choose to showcase a display promoting these types of materials regarding human sexuality," said state Rep. Christopher Olson, R-West Fargo.

Olson and fellow West Fargo Rep. Ben Koppelman first learned about the display and Facebook post secondhand; Olson from one of his constituents, and Koppelman from a friend. Olson has since heard from a dozen or so people in his district upset about the display.

Koppelman acted first, contacting West Fargo City Commissioner Duane Hanson to express his concerns. Koppelman said he chose to contact Hanson because he was acting as a citizen, not as a legislator. Hanson, in turn, contacted West Fargo Library Director Sandra Hannahs. Hannahs emailed Koppelman to explain the library's position on the display. She told him the display "is not intended to judge or promote, simply to respond to the needs and interests of West Fargo residents," but acknowledged that the library should not have promoted the display in the way that it did.

"Recognizing the conservative mindset of the city," Hannahs said in her email, "I believe it was insensitive of us to post an announcement on Facebook in which we referred to patrons to the display for a 'great read' for the end of summer."

Since then, the library has removed the phrase promoting the LGBT books as "perfect...summer reads," though the photo of the display remains on the library's Facebook page.

Neither Koppelman nor Olson object to the library owning or circulating books on LGBT topics, only to the promotion of them through the display and on Facebook. Koppelman was satisfied with Hannahs response to his concerns and hasn't pursued the matter further.

Olson's objections were stronger. He emailed Hannahs and copied members of the West Fargo City Commission, including Mayor Rich Mattern. Olson also drafted a formal statement summarizing his views.

The controversy quickly blew up, attracting media attention from multiple TV and radio stations in the area and beyond. Olson was contacted by LifeSiteNews.com, a pro-life website.

Both Koppelman and Olson felt the display lacked balance because it didn't include any books that were critical of LGBT lifestyles or questioned their scientific validity. Library officials may have not intended to promote LGBT lifestyles, Olson said, but that was the end result because the display excluded alternative views on the subjects.

"The actual content of the promoted material is, at its very heart, promotional of an ideology of sexual fluidity, promiscuity, experimentation and deviation," Olson said.

Olson also feels the display was inappropriate because it would be seen by children visiting the library. He has five children himself, ranging in age from 4 to 14.

"With my children, we've discussed these issues," he said. "But there are many people who haven't. I think it's very unfortunate that this topic is being pushed into the face of 5-6-7-year-old kids. That's a real tragedy."

Hannahs, the library director, said the library invites book purchase suggestions from patrons if they feel the library's collections do not adequately represent all perspectives on a topic. She said she felt the LGBT and people of color book displays were not inappropriate in the way they presented the subjects.

"These are both tasteful displays," she said. "They are not in your face. The covers are not explicit."