Apply to serve on Fresno County’s library committee

Applications open for Community Parent and Guardian Review Committee, which will determine what library materials are age appropriate for children

Shot of two people walking up the ramp to enter the Sanger branch location. (Kenny Goodman)
Shot of two people walking up the ramp to enter the Sanger branch location. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published April 2, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY – The Fresno County Board of Supervisors (Board) is now accepting applications from the public for a Community Parent and Guardian Review Committee, which will ultimately decide which books and materials are suitable for children’s shelves in the Fresno County Public Library.

This committee is the brainchild of Supervisor Steve Brandau. During a Nov. 2, 2023 press conference in front of the main branch of the Fresno County Public Library, Brandau informed the crowd that, at the following Board meeting, he would introduce his Parents Matter resolution.

At its Nov. 28, 2023 meeting, the Board passed the resolution 3-2, with Supervisors Brian Pacheco and Sal Quintero voting against it. According to Brandau, the purpose of the resolution was to provide the county with greater oversight regarding books and materials in the children’s section of the library’s 34 branches.

To achieve this oversight, a committee – chosen by the supervisors – will be entrusted to review these books and materials. Any books or materials the committee deems possibly offensive or too provocative for young readers will be consigned to a more secure area in the library. Anyone under 18 must have the approval of a parent or guardian to check out the materials.

THE COMMITTEE

As originally conceived by Brandau, the committee would have 18 members. The five supervisors would select three members each. The members must reside in the supervisor’s district. The three remaining members would be chosen via a different selection process.

At the Nov. 7 Board meeting, Supervisor Buddy Mendes objected to the 18-member committee, so Brandau agreed to reduce it to 11 members – two members from the five districts. County Administrative Officer (CAO) Paul Nerland will choose the 11th member.

Brandau repeated his claim that no materials will be banned from the library. The committee, which will meet four times a year, will review materials to determine if they are age inappropriate. The review will be based on a community standards policy the committee adopted.

To be eligible, a committee member must be at least 18 years old. They must reside in their supervisor’s district. Nerland’s choice does not have to reside in a specific district but must be a Fresno County resident.

Committee members serve two-year terms. The terms are staggered. The first appointee will serve a one-year term; the second appointee will serve a two-year term. All terms will be staggered.

The Committee will be entrusted with maintaining the list of age-inappropriate materials and ensuring the public has access to the list. The list will be posted in all library branches.

The committee application period closes April 26.

CENSORSHIP REGIME

From the moment Brandau unveiled his Parents Matter resolution, the movement has been mired in controversy.

During the Nov. 2 press conference, Brandau insisted he was not censoring books. He also vehemently denied he was targeting LGBTQ+ books. Members of the LGBTQ+ community who attended the press conference took exception to this. They pointed out that the majority of the books Brandau used as examples of age-inappropriate material were geared toward the LGBTQ+ community.

On Nov. 6, the ACLU of Northern California emailed a 7-page letter to the Board in which it listed five reasons, supported by legal decision, why the Parents Matter resolution was unconstitutional. 

Regarding why it believes the resolution would impose an “unlawful and invasive censorship regime on the constitutional right to access library books,” the ACLU said, “The sweep of the Resolution’s language is breathtaking. The terms ‘sexual writings,’ ‘sexual content,’ ‘sexual references’ and ‘other content deemed age-inappropriate’ are so inherently subjective as to be entirely arbitrary.”

Continuing, the letter said, “More concerning and vaguer still, is the Resolution’s focus on books and materials that touch on ‘gender identity content,’ which the Resolution wrong categorizes as ‘sexual content.’”

At the Nov. 7 Board meeting, during public comments, Karen Bosch Cobb mentioned she served as the Fresno County Library director from 2003 to 2010. Bosch Cobb said implementing a standards policy is unnecessary because such a policy is already in effect.

“First of all, it’s unnecessary. The library has long had a caution policy in place,” she said. “It’s researched in order to make sure we have materials to represent all members of our community. Our materials are selected by professional librarians. Parents do have concerns from time to time about books. There is a procedure for people to submit a complaint. Staff take these complaints very seriously; they research them.”

Pacheco described the committee as the start of a slippery slope. Quintero voted against the resolution, echoing Bosch Cobb’s comments that the library has a complaint policy in place for patrons who object to books and materials.

Darren Fraser
Reporter