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'I felt very alone': Idaho librarian weighs in on debate over challenged books

Ashley Mayes has been a librarian in the Salmon River School District since 2013. She said the district had more books challenged last year than the last decade.

RIGGINS, Idaho — "There's a war going on and the scariest thing about this war is that these tactics, they're being waged against society," Rep. Heather Scott said. "Most people are just unaware it's even happening."

Scott (R-Blanchard) was part of a presentation at Regeneration Calvary Chapel in Kootenai on how to remove inappropriate materials from Idaho schools and libraries.

She referred to it as a war of perversion against Idaho children, an orchestrated attack on their minds and their souls, and one that hasn't happened overnight. 

During the hour-long talk, Scott made comments such as this:

"Does anyone here even remember when local school boards across the country began writing policies to promote the girls using the boys bathrooms and showers," Scott said. "How long ago was that?

"Do you remember how, or even when it started, when drag queens were reading to little children, when did that start? When did school counselors start doing counseling to counsel children to change their sex and then hide it from the parents? And when did high school boys - I went to Taco Bell the other day and a boy had the longest fingernails I'd ever seen, painted, lipstick. When did this happen?"

This presentation Rep. Scott was involved with last month came on the heels of the defeat of House Bill 666, the legislation that would have removed the, "disseminating harmful materials to minors" exemption from Idaho libraries and schools.

Although the Senate considered it mischief and killed it, that doesn't mean it would just die.

"When did we allow a law in this state to say that it was okay for libraries across Idaho to promote pornography," Scott said. "Give them an exemption?"

1972 is actually when, but it didn't say it was okay for libraries to promote pornography. However, a lot of Idahoans believed it was and started questioning what books were in their school libraries. 

For example, the Nampa School District permanently removed 22 books from their library shelves last week. The reasons why, were plenty.

KTVB is waiting for a response from the district on whether any of those books had been challenged by parents. 

RELATED: Books challenged or banned in Idaho school districts

After seeing the Nampa School District story, a school librarian in Riggins reached out to KTVB.

Ashley Mayes has been an English teacher at Salmon River Junior/Senior High School since 2005. 

She has also been the district librarian since 2013, meaning she helps choose the books that are on the shelves based on selection criteria which is clearly explained in policy, Mayes said.

They also choose books based on student interest and ones they get some through donations. Mayes manages about 10,000 books between the elementary school and the high school.

Mayes said interest in library books picked up about a year ago when the district had two books challenged. She said she didn't have that many challenges the previous 10 years combined, all of which were resolved with just a conversation.

That was also about the same time when school board meetings went from about 10 people in attendance, to about 70 by October, all to re-work a "reconsideration policy" when it comes to books in the library, Mayes said.

They made one policy, but it took about a year to do so, because of that sudden increase in community involvement, which Mayes said she had to endure public defamation and witness book burning.

Mayes said there seemed to be a theme with the books being questioned in Riggins. The first one, "Drama" by Raina Telgemeier and the second, "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women."

"The one page that was problematic was about Coy Mathis, who, it was a transgender student whose family was originally responsible for the transgender bathroom bill," Mayes said. "But, the challenge was specifically related to that particular page. 

"The other book was about a relationship, a young relationship in which a young female character finds out that someone that she had a crush on happened to be gay, and the ending is a story of tolerance and acceptance, but the people that had a problem with the book didn't think that it fit in our elementary library."

When asked if any of these books had been check out on a regular basis, Mayes said she did a circulation report in the last two years, and found out of 6,000 books to go through the library's scanner, less than 40 of those were for those two books. 

"When I was asked to remove them, I simply was concerned, because we just can't remove books," Mayes said. "So, at that point, working closely with my administration, we decided that we needed to have a policy in place so that parents can have a say in what his or her own child experiences in the library, and then what to do if they think that nobody should be reading those books."

KTVB's Brian Holmes: "Why did you think there's a heightened scrutiny with what's going on with school libraries and such all of a sudden?"

Mayes: "I wish I had a good answer for that. I don't know if its a combination of fear, what seems to be an easy target historically, but honestly, I do not have a good answer for that."

Holmes: When somebody like Rep. Heather Scott considers this back and forth between libraries and schools and parents and the community, what do you think about something like that?"

Mayes: "I have honestly found it terrifying. I have spent, and I know other librarians and teachers who have found themselves in this similar situation, have honestly felt sick to my stomach. The idea that someone, without a conversation or without any evidence or proof of what's going on in our local library or in any other local library, is hurtful and is harmful.

"I work with children. I coach children. I have four children of my own and to be personally insinuated those things are happening or that people that I highly regard in my profession and institution, is alarming."

Holmes: "Why did you want to reach out and say, here's what's happening in Riggins?"

Mayes: "I felt when this started a year ago, that being the only librarian in the district, I felt very alone in the work that I was doing. So, being able to reach out to other librarians and now hearing lots of other stories of where this is happening, I want it to serve as a precautionary or an opportunity to educate others on the rights that parents and students have, and the professional responsibilities that librarians have. It is not up to us to decide what somebody should and should not read."

After all that, Mayes Salmon River schools set up a policy everyone seems to be good with and because of that, "Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls" remains on the shelf in the elementary school.

The graphic novel, "Drama," was moved to the middle school library.

A decision, Mayes said, that reflects their local demographics, the concerns of the parents and the needs of the students.

Mayes hopes going forward, the school can return to uniting Riggins, instead of dividing it with disinformation.

KTVB did reach out to Rep. Heather Scott to ask her about her presentation last month and whether she has actually spoken with any local school districts about their policies and such. 

Scott has yet to respond.

Mayes did make it clear, she wants other smaller school districts out there to know they are not alone and she would be happy to share her experiences in getting through one of the most difficult years she's had as a librarian.

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