By Jenna Johnson and Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The Calvert County Board of Library Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to keep a controversial book about two male penguins where it is shelved: in the children's section of county libraries, along with other picture books.
The 2005 book, "And Tango Makes Three," tells the true story of the penguins Roy and Silo, who formed a strong partnership while living at the Central Park Zoo in New York. When zookeepers noticed the two were taking turns sitting on an egg-shaped rock, they gave the couple a real egg and allowed them to hatch it, producing a baby girl penguin named Tango.
The book has won numerous awards and created controversy across the country because it involves same-sex parents.
In December, Beth Bubser of Dunkirk filed a complaint about "And Tango Makes Three" to the county library staff, saying there was no warning on the book that it is about same-sex parents. Bubser's 7-year-old daughter chose the book from a library. Bubser said she did not realize the book was about same-sex parents until they had read well into it.
Bubser said the book should be removed from the children's section and shelved in a location labeled alternative or non-traditional family.
In January, a library panel reviewed the complaint and the book. Library Director Patricia Hofmann decided the book should remain in the children's section. Several months later, Bubser appealed the decision to the library trustees. She also protested Hofmann's decision during a Calvert County Board of Commissioners meeting.
"It is a great book for a certain family, but not for my family and a lot of families I know," Bubser said at the meeting. "I believe in everyone's rights. I believe in freedom of speech, but this is not right for my family."
Three other mothers joined Bubser at the meeting and expressed concerns about their young children being exposed to information contrary to their values, such as homosexuality.
Since then, Hofmann said, she has received nine letters or e-mails complaining about the book and even more "extremely positive" letters supporting her decision to keep the book in the children's section.
"Some of these are just wonderful to read," she said of letters that discussed the role of libraries in the community, providing a diversity of books and preparing children for the real world.
Library trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to back Hofmann's decision.
Trustee Nicholas Garrett said he reviewed Supreme Court rulings and public information laws on the topic. He concluded that it is the job of a library to disseminate information, not to "take the role of a parent" and determine who can access what information.
Trustee Laura Holbrook asked whether books about same-sex parents were labeled as such and how would those about single, foster, mixed-race, young or old parents be tagged. Segregating books about such families would require "passing value judgments on such families" and would censor what readers could easily find in the library.
"This is a public library," Holbrook said. "We are here to be welcoming of all families of all kinds."
Board President M. Kiplinger Hine Jr. said it was a positive experience for the library staff, trustees and the public to learn about the book and discuss the role of libraries.
"Our duty is to defend a public library for what it's supposed to be," he said. "And I think we did that today."