It's all right to keep that kind of book on the library shelves. But great heavens, man, do you have to go around telling people they're there?
Such is the lament of Fairfax County officials who recently discovered a special collection of books by and about homosexual authors in the county-run Thomas Jefferson community library near Falls Church.
Under a sign written in pale lavender on pink, the 120 volumes assembled near the reference desk are presented to the reading public as "The Lavender Life: Lesbians and Gay Men in History, Society and the Arts."
Despite a mounting barrage of criticism from area citizens and intense pressure from members of the County Board of Supervisors who find the display objectionable, the County Library Board voted at a special session last night to keep the exhibit.
The board directed that it be balanced, however, with books presenting opposing views to homosexuality and that a new sign be placed on the display.
Typical of the remarks by county officials that preceded last night's meeting and led to the library board's decision was the exclamation of Fairfax Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III: "It's just stupid," said he, joining County Board Chairman John F. Herrity Wednesday night in an on-sight inspection. "They [library officials] knew it would arouse controversy. What would you think if they put something up for the Klan?"
"The county government should not be in the position of encouraging people to read that type of material," fumed Herrity, who has urged library board members "in very clear language . . . to take the appropriate action.It [homosexuality] is against the law. I think it becomes a matter of disciplining whoever did it. Absolutely."
Two of the library board's critics said they were pleased by last night's action, David called "a very good compromise. I don't object to the books. That's the purpose of a library . . . it will be a balanced viewpoint." Supervisor James M. Scott, who had said the display was probably "a mistake in judgment," said last night the decision to add opposing views was "a very rational approach to the problem."
Herrity, on the other hand, was unmoved. "That's ridiculous," he said of the library board's decision. "I think the library board has lost its balance, frankly."
The librarian responsible for the exhibit, Georgetown University student Charles Kenner, left the library administration building in Springfield last night vowing to "fight the decision [to alter the display] legally or any way I can. I think it's really unfortunate that they rely on the voices of a few bigots in the community."
The idea for the display originated last month with a suggestion from Keener. The intent, authorities said, was to advertise the library system's resources in books penned by homosexual authors and materials offering discussion and counseling in alternative sexual life styles.
Keener made the sign and tacked it to a corner of the bookcase. The emblem's triangular shape and color references are said to derive from badges worn by homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps.
Library officials maintain that the assembled works -- which include works by Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein -- "fit perfectly into board policy," in the words of one.
"It [the controversy] came as somewhat of a surprise to the staff," said library system spokeswoman Nancy C. Woodall. "It just seems as though people are becoming alarmed over something that's not very alarming. There's nothing salacious or controversial about it."
Libraries rotate such displays monthly, she said. "If anything, we have problems getting displays put up in the libraries," said deputy director Patricia Paine. "Not many people from the county come in with ideas. So often they're put up by staff members."
In this case, Paine said, library directors in Springfield had foreseen a possible problem.Last month the project was "mentioned," she said, at a meeting of the system's executive committee. "We recognized that it was an issue that could be considered sensitive."
But Paine, along with other committee members, approved the idea because, she said, "I felt that the exhibit was done in a tasteful manner."
Tasteful or not, it prompted library board member J. D. Evans to urge board members to take down the display because, he said, "I'd like to be able to shove it in front of my supervisor to get him off my back." He called the exhibit "inappropriate because it's offensive to a substantial portion of the community."
"The library," Evans added, should be a very neutral source of information."
But Keener, an avowed homosexual, said he took such objections as a personal affront. "You would no longer go to a Jew, for instance, and say that a display on his culture had to include books saying that Jews should be thrown in ovens."
County Supervisor Scott called the controversy "an unusual situation. In all the years I've been a supervisor, I've received very few complaints about the libraries in general and [fewer] about Thomas Jefferson. It's a well established community library."