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Oglethorpe Library Moves YA Memoir About ‘Black Queer Boys’ to Adult Section

The Oglethorpe County Library Board discusses challenged book 'All Boys Aren't Blue.' Credit: Lee Shearer

The Oglethorpe County Library Board of Trustees voted to move a book from the library’s young adult section to the adult shelves May 23 as a conservative campaign to restrict youth access to LGBTQ-themed books continues to play out in area public libraries.

The library board voted without dissent or discussion to accept the recommendation of its newly formed Book Action Committee to reclassify All Boys Aren’t Blue. The board had two other options, board chair Mike Garner told the group before the vote—to remove the book entirely from the library or keep it in the YA section.

George M. Johnson’s memoir details “the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys,” according to the publisher’s description. The book earned critical praise, but has been one of the most challenged and banned books in the nation since its 2020 publication, according to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

Seven Oglethorpe County residents had formally challenged the book, Garner said, though the committee considered only six of the requests; the seventh came past the deadline for filing challenges. Some asked for the book to be reclassified as adult. Others said it should be removed from the library.

A review committee of the Athens Regional Library System had recommended that the book remain in the YA section, but also noted that it was a “crossover” book that would be relevant to both high school age and college age readers, said Garner, who was also a member of the three-person Book Action Committee. “We felt it would serve the community better in the adult section,” he said.

The Oglethorpe library is part of the Athens Regional Library System, along with public libraries in Madison, Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, and the cities of Lavonia and Royston. Under the system’s process for responding to challenges, a committee of library professionals evaluates the book and makes a recommendation to the local library board, which has the final say.

The Oconee library, which has branches in Watkinsville and Bogart, has dealt with numerous book challenges over the past year, all against books with LGBTQ themes. That board has voted to reclassify some of the challenged books into the adult category, but none have been removed entirely from the library. Most recently, in April, the Oconee board voted to reclassify two more books—one from juvenile to young adult and one from young adult to adult, reported Lee Becker in his Oconee County Observations blog.

One other request was filed in Franklin County. Parts of Lavonia and Royston are in Franklin County.

Some Oglethorpe elected officials called for All Boys Aren’t Blue to be removed from the library in an April Oglethorpe County Commission meeting, and Commission Chair Jay Paul said the board could withhold county funding for the library if it were not removed, according to the Oglethorpe Echo newspaper.

The reclassification does not mean younger readers are denied access to All Boys Aren’t Blue or any other books in the libraries (excepting reference materials that can only be used within the library) if they’ve got a library card. A parent or guardian must sign an application for a library card for children under 18, and children 10 and under must be accompanied in the library by a parent, guardian or other responsible adult.

The libraries have made other changes in response to the wave of challenges, spearheaded by local representatives of a conservative political group called Moms for Liberty, formed in 2021 to resist COVID-19 measures such as face masks and vaccine mandates. The broad YA category is now further divided into subcategories deemed more appropriate for middle grades vs. high school ages.

The regional library system is also distributing a pamphlet to guide parents, with directions for finding book review websites, including some that have content warnings about such things as violence and “mature content.”

“We want to make sure that the books in the library are books the people in the community may want to read,” said Athens Regional Library System Executive Director Valerie Bell, who attended the Oglethorpe County board meeting along with some other system librarians.

“That’s the way democracy works,” Bell said after the meeting. “The library is here for everybody. We want to work with parents.”