Huntington Beach City Council votes down item seeking transparency in children’s book restrictions

Kane Durham with some of the children's books that have been recataloged at the Huntington Beach Public Library.
Advocate Kane Durham with some of the children’s books that have been recataloged at the Huntington Beach Public Library on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

February is “We Love Our Libraries Month” in Huntington Beach.

But many in the community have questions about the way the children’s library book review process is being implemented at the Huntington Beach Public Library.

An agenda item seeking transparency and detailed reporting, brought forth by Councilwoman Natalie Moser, was shot down at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Moser’s item failed to pass on a 3-3 vote, with Councilman Casey McKeon absent. Moser, Dan Kalmick and Rhonda Bolton supported the item, with Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, Mayor Pro Tem Pat Burns and Tony Strickland voting no.


The conservative council majority passed Resolution 2023-41 last October on a 4-3 vote. The resolution seeks to stop children’s access to books and materials that contain “any content of a sexual nature.” Additionally, it sets up a yet-to-be-formed parental advisory board of up to 21 people to review and approve future books before they are brought into the library.

Moser sought for city staff to issue a report relating to several aspects of the resolution, including a detailed explanation of the criteria used to determine which books to recatalog, a transparent and available list of all books that have been moved and a description of how new books will be assessed. The item also seeks details on physical changes made to library areas, how community members can provide feedback, how the process works in regard to digital assets and a clarification of the new youth re-carding process.

The entrance to the children's book section at the Huntington Beach Public Library.
The entrance to the children’s book section at the Huntington Beach Public Library.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“This should have all been done before anything happened, before any books were moved,” Moser said. “We should always have a solid framework for anything we do, especially when it’s impacting so many people in the community.”

On Feb. 7, librarians at the Central Library started moving books from the children’s section to a restricted “X Adult” section on the fourth floor.

Van Der Mark, who spearheaded the resolution last year, said Tuesday night that Moser was asking for an audit of a program that has yet to be fully implemented.

“We do believe in transparency, and all of these questions will be answered,” Van Der Mark said. “By the way, great questions, so thank you ... We will have the answers to them as it’s being implemented.”

Moser quickly responded that the resolution was already being implemented.

“[The librarians] should have all of the information available to them in print,” she said. “They’re not trying to be political, they’re trying to do their job. We’re impairing them from being able to do that, one, by passing this, and two, by not providing them with specific and clear information so that they can do the job that’s being asked of them.”

Strickland, in voting against the item, said he believed Moser was simply trying to rehash the merits of the resolution.

There was some discussion over the standards given to the librarians for moving the books. Huntington Beach resident Dina Chavez submitted a public records request to the city on Jan. 23 asking for all records and email communications regarding the removal and relocation of books from the children’s library.

Empty shelves are shown in the youth restricted books area at the Huntington Beach Public Library on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The request produced an email from community and library services director Ashley Wysocki, written to library staff on Jan. 12.

“Until the City Council or City Attorney’s office provides a formal definition of ‘sexual content,’ please use the definition that can be found through Wikipedia as guidance,” Wysocki wrote.

Bolton on Tuesday night asked why the process of moving books had to start now, without any credible standards for those books to be moved.

Interim City Manager Eric Parra, also the city’s police chief, responded that staff was making a good faith effort to comply with the direction of council.

“In the absence of any credible standards, though, for the librarians to use?” Bolton said. “The universe of books that are being removed runs the gamut, from books about boats to potty training to God knows what else.”

Kalmick said he believed the removal of books from the children’s section violated the city’s municipal code by censoring books. Municipal Code Section 2.30.030 says, in part, that the director of community library services is required to “preserve the Library Bill of Rights by challenging censorship and affirming that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that library resources be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of the people.”

The Library Bill of Rights states that a person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views.

City Atty. Michael Gates responded to Kalmick that what the resolution asks the library to do — moving books away from the children’s section and requiring parental involvement for access — is not censorship, as a matter of law.

“I get your point, but it’s not actually in conflict [with the municipal code] from a legal standpoint,” Gates said.

Advocate Kane Durham with some of the books in question at the Huntington Beach Public Library on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Meanwhile, some gathered in front of the Central Library on Sunday afternoon to read aloud from dozens of books that had been moved to the X Adult section.

Kane Durham said the reading was not sponsored by any particular group. The group tried to check out a copy of each book that has moved so far.

“It’s a community collective response,” Durham said. “It’s just about giving library patrons a chance to see for themselves what is the content of the books.”

The books included titles like “Everyone Poops,” “Own Your Period” and “On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow.” Additional books include “Puberty is Gross but also Really Awesome,” “Once Upon a Potty” and several from the “American Girl” series.

Durham said the group is planning to meet each Sunday afternoon to read the books.

Minors under 18 are currently unable to check out the moved books until new all-access minor cards are issued, Chavez said. They’re expected to be made available in March, when about 8,000 youth library cards that are currently issued are set to expire.

A past president of Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library, she added Wednesday that the situation is putting the city’s librarians in a difficult position.

“I don’t know what this means for the librarians,” Chavez said. “What’s the next step? I don’t know how they’re expected to properly do their job without any kind of framework to work with. It’s not fair ... It’s a mess.”