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Arlington city manager defends library director as debate over obscenity continues

The Arlington Public Library Downtown located in the heart of downtown Arlington and named after George W. Hawkes.
Emily Nava
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Arlington City Council members have discussed creating a community review measure for challenged books at the Arlington Public Library.

Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton described the city's director of public libraries as a "consummate professional."

His comments follow repeated calls for Norma Zuniga to step down after the public library's book review process found three graphic novels were not pornographic.

In response to the findings—and outcry from people who have for months decried the mayor's Pride month proclamation and LGBTQ displays in libraries—city council discussed creating a community review measure for challenged books.

Yelverton said he'd continue to work with Zuniga and library staff.

"Norma Zuniga and her team are consummate professionals who are working with all of the community to work through this complex topic," he said Tuesday evening. "As city manager, I hold her in very high regard and will continue to work with her and her team and the community, the whole community, to work through and add the concerns in development plans that everyone can find common interest in."

Zuniga told city council during an afternoon session that Arlington Public Libraries do not have pornography on their shelves.

While some books describe or depict nudity or sexual acts, reviewers take the whole body of work into consideration.

That was the case for three challenged graphic novels: "The Love Bunglers" by Jaime Hernandez; "The Pervert" by Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez; and "Sex Criminals" by Matt Fraction. A review committee of library staff did not find the three books pornographic, but removed "The Pervert" and "The Love Bunglers" for other reasons.

Gina Woodlee said the results of the book review made her believe that Zuniga cannot identify pornography. She and others have called for a citizen review committee to take up challenged books.

"I would have not even asked for that if Norma would've seen these books and argued, 'That is pornographic, Gina,' but she didn't. And so I don't trust her judgment," Woodlee said during the meeting.

However, advocates for the system said they fear the change would favor those who have tried to limit visibility of books with LGBTQ representation.

"Every time you get a decision, or you hear an opinion that you don't like, you don't get to start a new committee or change the rules," Jill Westrom said at the meeting.

What would citizen review do?

To be clear, the city council has not decided to vote on any sort of review committee at publication time.

However, council members discussed Tuesday afternoon either forming a citizen review body from new residents, or from the nine-member Library Advisory Board.

District 5 council member Rebecca Boxall suggested creating a "trigger" if a book receives enough requests for reconsideration, a form that residents can submit to challenge a book.

Books can be challenged only once a year.

"Ultimately, these questions, if they're not satisfied in some way, will end up back here at city council," Boxall said.

The library received four requests last year. The library has received two challenges so far this year, for "Call Me Max," a children's book about a transgender child, and "You Wouldn't Want to Be an Aztec Sacrifice," a children's book by Fiona Macdonald.

District 1 council member Helen Moise suggested picking members of the library board for a possible third-party review board.

"(Zuniga) only gets a couple of these a year," she said about the review submissions.

Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, suggested adding a line to library policies that said library staff will work to prevent children from being exposed to pornographic and obscene material.

"I think that addresses that concern, and I think we're all on the same page on that," he said.

The library has made several changes since attention shifted to its LGBTQ and graphic novel collections, Zuniga said.

Books about LGBTQ characters have dedicated collection areas tailored to all age ranges in all library locations. Books also have spine marking identifiers. Library cards for minors now have new access codes for limited access and restricted access, which affects 15,611 accounts.

Library staff have moved graphic novels from the second floor to its third at the main library branch, and adults must be accompanied by children to access the children's section. The staff are working on implementing a three-layer review process by a book selector, manager and supervisor.

Zuniga mentioned she and her staff are exploring moving graphic novels to an ebook format that requires parental permission to access.

"I think that also offers a really good solution to some of the concerns," she said.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.