Extra chairs and palpable tension filled the board room of Wellington’s community center Tuesday night as residents walked through the doors of the town’s public library and into its Board of Trustee’s meeting.
The room quickly filled with roughly 40 people, many of whom were there to comment on a list of books some residents want banned from Wellington Public Library.
Though a book ban wasn’t officially on the board’s agenda Tuesday, a list of public records requests from Wellington residents in recent months was made publicly available ahead of the meeting. Among those requests was an inquiry by Christine Gaiter — the wife of Trustee Jon Gaiter — asking when 14 book titles were purchased and made available for checkout. Some of the books on the list were popular titles like E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
The request gained traction on a Facebook page, Wellington Town Conversations, where several residents speculated there would be an effort to ban books from the library.
Their suspicions were confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting, where multiple people asked for several books to either be banned or made less accessible at the library.
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In her comments Tuesday, Christine Gaiter did not call for an outright ban. She asked the Board of Trustees to remove a list of 19 books from the shelves of the public library and put them where children would not be able to access them without permission from an adult.
The list Christine Gaiter shared with the Board of Trustees is available at the end of this story.
“My issue is that these books go into too much graphic detail of a sexual act,” she said. “They are not appropriate for children. The library should be a safe place for families and kids.”
Christine Gaiter also asked the board to develop a review process that every library book has to go through before it’s put on the shelf.
“The library is not being inclusive of my Christian ethics,” she said. “There are Christians in this town that think like me. You don’t have to agree with us, but I do ask that you respect us and include our views in your decision-making process.”
Many of the eight public comments in favor of limiting or banning books echoed sentiments she shared around protecting children from adult themes like depictions of rape and sexual assault.
Christine Gaiter used definitions from Wellington’s land use code for sexually-oriented businesses to justify her request, saying she believes the books meet the code’s definition of adult entertainment and materials that should be in an adult bookstore.
Under Wellington’s land use code, a sexually-oriented business is defined as “any business where individuals appear in a state in such a manner as to intentionally display specified anatomical areas or encourages specified sexual activities.” The code goes on to exclude performances that include nudity and “taken as a whole, contain serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Eleven people spoke out against efforts to ban or restrict the books, including parents, teachers and a librarian. Many of them expressed disbelief that the conversation was happening in their town.
“The issue of banning books is directly before us tonight,” said Heather Zadina, a Wellington resident who spoke out against removing the books from the library. “Is this how we want to be known?”
Zadina spoke about her teenage daughter and how she sees her role as a parent as being there to answer questions her daughter might have while reading. Other parents in the room said they’d rather read the books with their children and discuss the difficult topics and that it’s their right to have that option.
“We don’t live in a vacuum, these things happen to people whether we like it or not,” Zadina said. “Turning a blind eye doesn’t prevent them. We’re telling victims their voices are not to be heard.”
Another resident who spoke out against removing the books was Lauren Reisfeld, an assistant media manager at the Wellington Public Library. Reisfeld said she spoke Tuesday night outside of her capacity as a town employee, but rather as a concerned resident.
“Access is one of the most critical things libraries bring to the world today,” Reisfeld said. “Access to resources for people who are in bad situations. Libraries need to be able to provide these books to certain people.”
She went on to say that if the board were to ban these books, it would open the door for anyone to remove books they might find distasteful. “This could lead us down a path I don’t think anyone wants to go down.”
Trustee Jon Gaiter was the only board member to speak about the potential book ban, saying some of the issues residents raised were concerning to him personally.
“We need to set up a time to discuss these issues so our library’s role is clear and defined,” he said.
Some Wellington residents questioned whether Jon Gaiter should be allowed to take action on the issue, considering it was brought forth by his wife and could be considered a conflict of interest. The board did not say whether it would officially take action on the issue.
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For some, the effort to ban books is another sign of Wellington’s growing pains
Several Wellington residents spoke about pervasive divisions in the town illustrated by the possible book ban as well as a series of citizen-led petitions the board recently gave approval to begin gathering signatures. Those petitions include one to limit elections to in-person voting and paper ballots only and another to ban marijuana sales in the town of Wellington after voters in November narrowly approved a repeal of the town’s previous ban on dispensaries.
One petition looks to prohibit the town from giving monetary donations to individuals or nonprofit organizations, while another looks to repeal sections of the town’s municipal code that dictate permit requirements for water usage and seeks to ban the town from limiting water usage or engaging in water conservation efforts. Christine Gaiter’s name is listed on that petition, but she didn’t speak about it during her public comment Tuesday night.
Wellington is one of Northern Colorado’s rapidly growing towns, having almost doubled in population over the last decade. Residents on either side of the book issue alluded to watching their beloved town change and with it, experience growing pains impacting residents’ abilities to come together.
“I’ve lived in Colorado for 71 years. I love this state but I’ve seen a lot of problems over the last several years,” said John Walsby.
What books do people want banned, restricted at Wellington Public Library?
The titles listed below were provided to the Coloradoan by Christine Gaiter and come from a list she said she shared with Wellington’s Board of Trustees. This comprehensive list does not match the list of titles on Gaiter’s public records request.
Gaiter said she selected these titles from a list of books she found online after hearing in the news parents were trying to remove these titles from public school libraries. Gaiter said she then searched for titles available at the Wellington Public Library.
- “Speak,” by Laurie Halse Anderson
- “Shout,” by Laurie Halse Anderson
- “The Testaments,” by Margaret Atwood
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
- “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green
- “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James
- “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas
- “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” by Sarah J. Maas
- “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
- “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison
- “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov
- “Lucky,” by Alice Sebold
- “This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki
- “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeir
- “The Glass Castle,” by Jeannette Walls
- “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Foer
- “Outlander,” by Diana Gabaldon
- “The God of Small Things,” by Roy Arundhati
- “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff