Some parents in Goldendale feel the Goldendale Library has become a mine field for their children, with content wildly inappropriate for young ages within all-too-easy reach of small hands. The library says it’s parents’ job, not theirs, to control what children get their hands on.
Before coming to Goldendale, Olga Hodges was a health educator and project manager for Multnomah County Public Health Department in Portland, working with 13 different middle and high school clinics. Hodges now has become central organizer of a sizable constituency of concerned library patrons. She says it would be preferable to see the library be a perfectly safe place, in every section, to bring her kids, and, while they’re at it, get higher quality books in there. But initially her focus is on a more immediate goal. “We’re not asking the library to get rid of books we don’t like,” she says. “We want books to be placed in age-appropriate sections of the library.”
“If the expectation is that a child without supervision in the library should never encounter anything objectionable to their parents, we would find that an impossible standard to maintain,” states Amelia Shelley, executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library (FVRL) system, which operates the Goldendale Library. “Parents either need to accompany their children to supervise their access, or trust that their children are capable of making good decisions based on their family’s values.”
At the center of the current controversy is a Japanese graphic novel called So Cute It Hurts. This kind of Japanese work, called manga, is hugely popular in Japan and has seen explosive growth in the U.S., especially among teens. In 2020 the American market for manga hit a value of $250 million. Manga covers a broad range of topics—there’s manga for any subject you can name. In the Goldendale Library are manga graphic novels that deal with horror (vampires, monsters, dark rituals) and youthful sexual episodes. The books are commonly serialized in multiple volumes. The publishers of the material voluntarily rate their publications for age ranges, with the category “Mature” aimed at audiences 18 and above.
So Cute It Hurts Volume 13 is rated by its publisher as Mature. In Goldendale, it was next to a sign that read, “This area designated for youth ages 12-18.” The book concerns twins, a boy and a girl, who decide to cross dress and each enter the other’s life. There is an illustrated sexual encounter between a high school student and a college-age person; while the illustrated material is not totally explicit in its visual detail, what is depicted is clear.
“It doesn’t belong in the 12-year-old section,” Hodges says. The library seems to agree. “So Cute It Hurts changed its rating from Teen to Mature between volume 11 and 12 of the series,” Shelley says. “Our decision of placing it in the young adult area was based on the content of the first 11 books, and it’s clear we missed the change when the last four volumes were added to our collection. In this case, we appreciate this parent bringing it to our attention. We are undertaking a review of the entire series and will consider moving the books based on the Mature rating.”
On February 8 Hodges was walking with her children in the library when they came across So Cute It Hurts under the age 12 to 18 sign. She doesn’t have children that age; she was upstairs to use a computer and came across the book, which was prominently displayed, out on a table and not buried in the rest of the manga section. Seeing its content, she was appalled that it was placed in that age group. She went to Goldendale Librarian Terra McLeod to complain. The incident, which she videoed, quickly became more contentious than either of them intended. Hodges called the content in the book pornography. McLeod countered by saying she had reviewed the books in the series and found them entirely appropriate for the age group in question. McLeod went a step further and said the pornography was in Hodges’s mind. McLeod directed Hodges to fill out and return a form if she found the material objectionable, then asked her—repeatedly—to leave. Hodges refused, insisting on some resolution. McLeod finally called the police, who escorted Hodges out of the library.
Both McLeod and Hodges afterwards expressed regret over how they handled themselves.
“I do wish we could’ve had a more peaceful conversation on February 8,” Hodges emailed McLeod on February 18, “and for my part of that I do apologize. Thank you for your public service.”
“The librarian became frustrated with the patron’s refusal to listen as she tried to explain the review process,” Shelley says. “While I can’t say that her comment [saying the pornography was in Hodges’s mind] was appropriate, it is understandable. We have discussed it, and the librarian regrets having made those comments. Our intention is always to remain neutral, even if we disagree on the appropriateness of the content for a specific age group.” While the executive director of FVRL referenced McLeod’s regret, the librarian herself has not apologized directly to Hodges.
In the meantime, the video of the encounter between the two has been seen by more than 4,000 people. Social media in response to the video has not been kind to Hodges, who was subjected to a wide range of hostile comments, typical for social media mostly from people who were only partially aware of the facts. Many attacked her as a “Karen” who was overly sensitive and grossly intolerant—this despite Hodges repeatedly stating that her goal, ostensibly shared by the library, was to keep materials in their age-appropriate sections.
“This is like finding a cookbook in the geography section, and somehow the customer gets in trouble for pointing it out,” Hodges says of the criticism
Hodges organized a meeting of concerned community members for last week. News of it spread chiefly by word of mouth, though unknown to Hodges one person spoke of it on KLCK radio. About 50 people showed up at the meeting and engaged in a 90-minute discussion ranging from how Japanese culture ended up so appealing to American youth to practical action steps.
One parent brought in several manga books she checked out from the Goldendale Library to show a sampling of its content. Besides sexual encounters, there were some in the horror field that graphically depicted acts too extreme to be cited in this family newspaper. Some in the room, distressed by the content, left as the books were reluctantly shown.
“If this were the movies,” one parent said, “it’d be rated R. You’d have to be carded to see it. So why is it so easily available for anyone to see at the public library?”
A few voiced their concern that disturbing content aimed at young people was indicative of conspiratorial agendas, spiritual and/or political, but those perspectives did not gain traction in the conversation. There was overall agreement in the group, though, that standards of acceptable content for young people, across the board and within virtually all areas of contemporary culture, continued to degrade to lower common denominators. In the end, the broad consensus was to keep a reasonable approach focused on ensuring library content stays within designated age categories.
Hodges spoke at the Goldendale city council meeting last night (pushed to Tuesday because of the Monday Presidents’ Day holiday), too late for inclusion in today’s newspaper. The Sentinel will have a report on the meeting next week.
Monday Hodges sent in the form McLeod told her to fill out, to file a complaint about So Cute It Hurts. It had more than 70 signatures on it. The names represented a broad cross-section of the Goldendale community—retired teachers, an active firefighter, several local business owners, clergy, counselors, and young adults. Shelley acknowledged receipt of the form and advised Hodges it would go through FVRL’s standard processing.
The parent at the meeting who asked about why an R-rated movie would keep out younger audiences while anything could be viewed at the library didn’t realize she’d hit on the fact the law discriminates between what is allowable in the general public and what is allowable at schools and libraries. The latter are exempted by state law from standards of pornography that legally apply in all other situations. All states but seven in the country employ such an exemption. The exemption exists because of a national obscenity law that distinguishes between material considered obscene for private purposes and material that could have justifiable inclusion, in the eyes of the law, in libraries and educational institutions.
Something you could be arrested for showing in your home could be entirely legal in a school or public library, although some states are pushing back against state exemptions, facing as they do fierce contention from the ACLU and the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Office.
In Washington, RCW 9.68 covers the issue of pornography, but under that is clause 100, which says, “Nothing in RCW 9.68.050 through 9.68.120 shall apply to the circulation of any such material by any recognized historical society or museum, the state law library, any county law library, the state library, the public library, any library of any college or university, or to any archive or library under the supervision and control of the state, county, municipality, or other political subdivision.”