Milwaukee Group Seeks Fiery Alternative to Materials Challenge
Life grows more interesting by the day for officials of the West Bend (Wis.) Community Memorial Library. After four months of grappling with an evolving challenge to young-adult materials deemed sexually explicit by area residents Ginny and Jim Maziarka, library trustees voted 9–0 June 2 to maintain the young-adult collection as is “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access” to any titles. However, board members were made cognizant that same evening that another material challenge waited in the wings: Milwaukee-area citizen Robert C. Braun of the Christian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) distributed at the meeting copies of a claim for damages he and three other plaintiffs filed April 28 with the city; the complainants seek the right to publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop. The claim also demands $120,000 in compensatory damages ($30,000 per plaintiff) for being exposed to the book in a library display, and the resignation of West Bend Mayor Kristine Deiss for “allow[ing] this book to be viewed by the public.”
The unanimous vote rejecting the Maziarkas’ challenge came after trustees heard several dozen comments for and against restricting the materials, as well as being presented with opposing petitions: 700 signatures on the petition circulated by West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, a group formed by the Maziarkas, and more than 1,000 on an anti-restriction petition from the newly formed West Bend Parents for Free Speech. Ironically, four of the trustees were denied reappointment in April as a rebuke from city council members for adhering to the library’s reconsideration process instead of complying immediately with the Maziarkas’ changing reconsideration requests. The trustees are serving until their successors are appointed.
Accusing the board of submitting to the will of the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginny Maziarka declared, “We vehemently reject their standards and their principles,” and characterized the debate as “a propaganda battle to maintain access to inappropriate material.” She cautioned that her group would let people know that the library was not a safe place unless it segregated and labeled YA titles with explicit content. However, after the meeting board President Barbara Deter emphasized that it was the couple’s “freedom of speech” to challenge any individual library holding, according to the June 3 Greater Milwaukee Today.
For the immediate future, West Bend officials will be dealing with the CCLU’s legal claim. Describing the YA novel by celebrated author Francesca Lia Block as “explicitly vulgar, racial, and anti-Christian,” the complaint by Braun, Joseph Kogelmann, Rev. Cleveland Eden, and Robert Brough explains that “the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” specifically because Baby Be-Bop contains the “n” word and derogatory sexual and political epithets that can incite violence and “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”
The complaint points out that library Director Michael Tyree has “publicly stated that it is not up to the library to tell the community what is appropriate.” Citing “Wisconsin’s sexual morality law,” the plaintiffs also request West Bend City Attorney Mary Schanning to impanel a grand jury to examine whether the book should be declared obscene and making it available a hate crime.