Apodaca: A former H.B. librarian weighs in on the city’s new book committee

Huntington Beach residents protest and hold signs at an October 2023 City Council meeting.
Huntington Beach residents protest and hold signs at an October 2023 City Council meeting protesting the proposal to screen children’s books before they are shelved at the Huntington Beach Public Library.
(James Carbone)

So many alarming developments have transpired in Huntington Beach in the past year that it’s hard to keep track of them all, much less zero in on which among them are most deserving of outrage.

Included in this onslaught of extreme and potentially harmful acts are the following:

The City Council adopted an ordinance effectively banning the LGBTQ+ Pride flag on city property; dissolved a human relations task force that was formed in response to hate crimes in the 1990s; rewrote a declaration on human dignity that eliminated reference to hate crimes and added thinly veiled anti-trans language; removed an interfaith council’s ability to select who delivers the invocation at council meetings; banned government mask and vaccine mandates; and placed a measure on the March ballot that would require voters to show identification at the polls.

There’s more, but just for now I’d like to focus in on the apparent belief, stridently upheld by four of the seven sitting City Council members, that librarians simply cannot be trusted.


Librarians. Those benign book nerds. The dedicated professionals who love written words so much that they devote their lives to ensuring that everyone can partake in the pleasure and fulfillment they bring. Apparently they’ve all been part of some woke plot to corrupt our youth and spread — I don’t know what exactly. Ideas? Diverse perspectives? Literacy?

The city officials leading the charge decided to form a citizen-review panel, consisting of members that they cherry pick, which will be empowered to usurp the judgment of trained librarians to decide what books are suitable for the public libraries or that should be transferred from the children to adult sections.

These types of book-banning crusades have been playing out in communities across the nation, as well as in other parts of Orange County. Yet Huntington Beach is a particularly egregious example of this noxious trend, in part because its initiative is one piece of a package of extreme measures, and due to the methodical, single-minded way certain council members have pursued this agenda.

The current climate has made life difficult for librarians, who by now would likely be more than happy to ditch their sudden notoriety and return to their previously overlooked and underappreciated status.

“I know a lot of librarians, who didn’t get into the field to be called groomers and get death threats,” said Stephanie Beverage, who retired in November 2020 after nearly 12 years serving as the director of library services for Huntington Beach.

“It’s very stressful right now.”

Beverage herself provides a sterling example of why, instead of undermining librarians, we should celebrate them for the hard-earned expertise and dedication they bring to communities.

It’s not easy to step back from our consumerist instincts, but it might be worth the effort as unneeded items pile up.

Feb. 7, 2024

After graduating from El Dorado High School in Placentia, she earned a bachelor of arts in history at UCLA and a master’s degree in history from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where her exposure to the many excellent libraries in our nation’s capital influenced her career choice. She returned to UCLA for a master’s in library science.

Beverage worked at many public libraries throughout Southern California, and in 2009 she landed the top job in Huntington Beach, where she oversaw an expansion in programs and facilities throughout a challenging tenure that included a budget-straining recession and a pandemic. A sampling of the initiatives she championed: robust after-school and children’s programs; authors festivals; a resource center for veterans; computer labs; and a “maker space” that provides a variety of resources, from 3D printing to sewing, that can be utilized by entrepreneurs and hobbyists alike.

Fueling this flurry of activity is a core belief in the power of libraries to enrich lives.

“Libraries are at the heart of educating the next generation of leaders,” she said.

Beverage is so committed to this mission that she remains involved even in retirement, currently serving as an unpaid trustee for the Placentia Library District.

She is both mystified and alarmed by the continuing attacks on libraries, which strike at the heart of 1st Amendment free speech protections and the American tradition of intellectual freedom. Parents certainly have the right to guide their own children’s learning, she acknowledged, but that right does not extend to other people’s children.

Equally baffling is the idea that an untrained group of citizens would conduct the same kind of detailed, rigorous review and selection process involving the thousands of titles that are considered for inclusion in every library collection — a process that is both data-driven and tailored to the needs of the communities these institutions serve.

“I have absolutely no idea how any of what they proposed or suggested [in Huntington Beach] is going to work. It’s an absolute logistical nightmare.”

Logistics aside, Huntington Beach’s plan is also just plain wrong. It’s an affront to skilled professionals and an unwarranted restriction of residents’ rights to make their own choices for themselves and their children.

As Beverage likes to say, “free people read freely.” Huntington Beach City Council, let the people you represent read freely.