Group seeks to fight book censorship as Huntington Beach parent advisory board returns for final vote

The children's section of the Huntington Beach Central Library.
The children’s section of the Huntington Beach Central Library, pictured last month.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach City Council will again discuss a controversial parent/guardian children’s book review board at its meeting on Tuesday night.

Ordinance No. 4318, which passed by a 4-3 vote at the last meeting on March 19 despite hundreds of emails and more than 100 public speakers in opposition, will come back for a final reading on Tuesday. An approval then would amend the Huntington Beach Municipal Code by adding chapter 2.66, entitled “Community Parent-Guardian Review Board for Procurement of Children’s Library Materials.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, Mayor Pro Tem Pat Burns, Tony Strickland and Casey McKeon supported the ordinance that would create a board of up to 21 community members, appointed by the council, to review children’s books before they enter the Huntington Beach Public Library. Council members Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voted against.


Those disturbed by the ordinance continue to organize against the review board as well as the possible privatization of the public library, as the council also voted by the same 4-3 vote at the last meeting to initiate the request for proposal (RFP) process.

A silent protest is planned for 6 p.m. Friday at the Main Street Branch Library downtown, which organizers say will feature a walk to the pier and back. And on Thursday morning, Kalmick, Moser and Bolton took part in a Zoom discussion hosted by the group Authors Against Book Bans.

Along with remarks from each of the three council members, the Thursday’s event also featured four California-based Authors Against Book Bans members — Elana K. Arnold, Gretchen McNeil, Molly Knox Ostertag and California chapter lead MariNaomi.

Bolton started by noting that there were no qualifications for someone to serve on the proposed children’s book review board; those selected won’t be required to have backgrounds in library science, education or any other study that might better help them form their decisions.

“Having one group of political leaders decide what you can access in your public library is un-American,” she said. “Intellectual freedom is a 1st Amendment right, and this is a principle that’s been settled law for decades. What we have here is a City Council and a city attorney [Michael Gates] attempting to hoodwink our city’s residents into believing there’s something wrong with our public library and that librarians present a danger to children. It’s bull. We want people to know the truth.”

Patrons come and go from the Huntington Beach Central Library last year.
(File Photo)

Kalmick made reference to Van Der Mark, who has been a proponent of restricting certain books for children for years, in his remarks.

“This is a craven attempt to control people because one person who expresses her opinion as more important than experts is on a mission here,” he said. “They’re taking it out on the residents of Huntington Beach, when they really need to work on themselves.”

Van Der Mark was on the television news on Thursday morning. She debated Allison Lee, the director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office, about censorship of children’s books on KCAL 9.

Van Der Mark said in a phone interview Thursday that her priority has always been to protect kids, and that’s not going to change.

She added that she believes parents are just as qualified to review children’s books as librarians, many of whom hold master’s degrees in their field.

“We’re not talking about law manuals or, you know, brain surgery here,” she said. “We’re talking about reading a child’s book ... Do you think librarians are superior to parents? I don’t ... I think we’re equal. I don’t care what degrees anybody has, we are equal.

“When it comes to children’s books, I guarantee you, we are equal. It really is insulting for people to think we can’t read a child’s book and decide if it’s appropriate or not … I do see us — moms, dads, grandmas, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters — I do see us as equal to librarians. You don’t need a librarian’s degree to read a child’s book and understand it.”

But Moser said during the roundtable discussion that qualifications aside, the review board would ultimately take away the rights and privileges from every other parent in the city.

“They should be the ones making that decision and having that conversation with their child,” Moser said. “It shouldn’t be up to somebody else’s parent to make a decision for my child. I can work with my child to do that.”

Elana K. Arnold, shown last June, participated in Thursday's Authors Against Book Bans Zoom meeting.
Elana K. Arnold, a children’s and young adult author pictured speaking at a Huntington Beach City Council meeting last June, participated in Thursday’s Authors Against Book Bans Zoom meeting.
(File Photo)

Each of the authors in the discussion condemned Ordinance No. 4318, which would allow the committee members to screen books for sexual content and/or sexual references before entering the library.

Arnold introduced herself as a local resident and Ocean View High School graduate who’s a longtime patron of the Huntington Beach Public Library.

“A reader is in a powerful place with a book,” she said. “With a book in their hands, they are in charge. They can read it if they choose. Equally, they have the power to set it down and walk away. When someone makes that choice for readers by banning a book that has been included in a library’s collection by an educated, trained library professional, they rob readers of their freedom. They cheat them of an opportunity to engage safely with information and art.”

McNeil noted that advocates in favor of restricting access argue that children will be swayed by content that parents, political groups or religious organizations are either not ready to address or find personally inappropriate.

“Unfortunately, by restricting access to these books, censors undermine one of the basic functions of education — teaching students how to think for themselves,” she said.

Tuesday night’s Huntington Beach City Council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall.