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Library board members ousted in Iron River amid controversy over requests to remove books

Town board members say the library board was out of compliance with state law. Some community members want LGBTQ+ titles removed.

Community members of Iron River attend a special town board meeting about the Iron River Library Board’s composition. The town board voted to remove four members from the library board amid controversy over a proposal to remove transgender and LGBTQ books by an anonymous group of concerned residents. The town board’s chair said action to remove members was necessary to comply with state statutes, saying the library board had too many outside members. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Four members of the library board in Iron River have been removed as an anonymous group of residents wants to pull transgender or LGBTQ+ related books off the shelves at the northern Wisconsin community’s public library.

The Iron River Town Board held a special town meeting on Tuesday in a cramped room at its fire hall before a standing room-only crowd.The board voted unanimously to remove four members from the Iron River Library Board, citing conflicts with state statutes.

The board members who were removed, along with some residents, called the decision a convenient excuse amid controversy over requests to remove books from library shelves. The requests come as the nation has witnessed a broader book-banning movement that resulted in a record number of demands to censor library books last year. In Iron River, the library board has been criticized by some community members who disagree with its decision to retain a book that those residents deem pornographic or promoting certain gender ideologies.

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Town Board Chair David Ciembronowicz said they were reviewing the library board’s composition because state law only allows up to seven people to serve. Eight members had been serving on the board. State statutes also require that all but two members can be residents from another community. The four people removed are Michael Lang, Beth Kolling, Kathleen Skoraczewski, and Gayle Gonsior. All four lived outside the town.

Ciembronowicz said town supervisors realized the library board had too many members as they were examining a replacement for an individual who recently resigned. He said the decision had nothing to do with the controversy over certain books.

“The town board has since day one of this issue stayed away from this issue…because we have no authority to do anything as it relates to books, as it relates to any of those decisions the library board makes,” Ciembronowicz said.

dave ciembronowicz
Dave Ciembronowicz, town board chair in Iron River, said the board’s decision to remove members from the Iron River Library Board was necessary to comply with state statutes that limit the number of members. 
Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Under state law, members of the library board are appointed by the town chair with the approval of the board.

Last month, a group of anonymous residents wrote a letter to the community about books they claim promote certain ideas about gender or include pornographic content. The letter states a few community members approached the library board in July, seeking to hide the books from public view or remove them altogether. Some of the books targeted in the letter include “My Shadow is Pink,” “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” and “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human.”

One resident also submitted a request to remove the book “Let’s Talk About It” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. The book is a graphic novel that contains drawings that cover gender, sexuality and how to perform sexual acts among people of all sexual orientations. At its Aug. 15 meeting, the library board voted 7-1 to keep the book. However, they decided to move it from the young adult to adult section. The publisher recommends the book for ages 14 and older.

Skoraczewski, the library board’s treasurer, said there’s no disputing the board was out of compliance with state statutes related to limits on the number of members and outside residents. However, she said the timing of the discovery doesn’t feel like a coincidence and seems tied to concerns over LGBTQ+ materials in the library.

The issue hits home for Skoraczewski as a parent of a non-binary college student. She said they have no desire to return to the area because they don’t feel welcome.

“I know my kid is not the only one,” Skoraczewski said. “I feel, as a parent, I need to protect my kid. And I need to be able to be the voice for other families who maybe just don’t have that opportunity.”

Skoraczewski said it felt like town board members were disappointed with the library board’s recent decision.

WPR obtained a letter dated Aug. 15 that was sent to the library board by Ciembronowicz. In it, the town board chair spoke out against books and materials that he said could be “deemed pornography.” He added that other LGBTQ+ or transgender books and materials used children’s books “as a means of promotion of that lifestyle.”

“These books that have been identified throughout the library varying from between 60 and over 100 need to be re-reviewed for their value to the community and whether they incite, excite and foster behaviors that are not beneficial to the individual, the family or the community,” the letter reads. “Those that do not meet our values should be removed and/or moved to an area that is only available upon specific request.”

Ciembronowicz also said entities like the American Library Association, or ALA, and Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have a political, cultural and secular agenda. He accused the ALA of following a “Marxist” philosophy that “supplants value and morality of a community with ‘diversity equity and inclusiveness’ at the expense of community beliefs and culture.’”

Rich Nemitz
Rich Nemitz, town board member in Iron River, voted along with the rest of the board to limit members serving on the Iron River Library Board. Board members said the move was made to comply with state statutes. Some residents and library board members called it a convenient excuse amid controversy over a proposal to remove transgender and LGBTQ+ books by an anonymous group of concerned residents. 
Danielle Kaeding/WPR

In an Aug. 18 email sent to the library board, Town Board Supervisor Rich Nemitz reiterated thoughts he expressed as a private citizen at the Aug. 15 meeting. He said the book “Let’s Talk About It” had no redeeming qualities and called it inappropriate for children.

“This is not a trans, gay, liberal, conservative, black, white, red or brown issue as I don’t believe any of those family groups with young children want their children seeing explicit pictures of people of any kind having sex in various positions,” Nemitz wrote. “ALL types of families would want to protect their children from this.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Nemitz declined to comment. Attempts to reach Ciembronowicz on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Ousted board members have the opportunity to reapply, and Skoraczewski said she intends to seek out her position on the library board. Kolling, who was also removed, said she doesn’t believe she will pursue her seat. Kolling was among board members who voted to keep the book “Let’s Talk About It” on the shelves.

“I honestly don’t think that they would reappoint any of the four of us that they removed for that reason,” Kolling said.

Community members who attended Tuesday’s meeting expressed mixed views over the library board’s decision to keep transgender and LGBTQ+ titles on the shelves.

Missy Meritz of Iron River said the books should not be on display in the library.

“I think that it’s our job as parents to be responsible for the molding and shaping of children’s minds, and that it’s just plain wrong to put things that are very much pornography out on shelves for display,” Meritz said, referring to “Let’s Talk About It” and other books. “It’s shameful.”

Meritz said the book should be kept in a lockbox in the back of the library where they are only available upon request. Her husband Josh Meritz agreed.

“These books are available online if people want them, but I don’t feel they need to be in the library,” he said.

Nearby residents in the Town of Hughes like Evie Brege voiced concerns that the library may be shut down or that its director, Jacqueline Pooler, may be removed.

“She’s supposed to provide information for everybody, and it’s the parents who should check to see what their kids are checking out,” Brege said. “So we just don’t see that there’s any reason why any of those books should be banned.”

Iron River residents Audrey and Rudy Kavajecz said they would like to see the library board recommend new members rather than the town board. Audrey said she would also like to see more representation on the board from other communities surrounding the library.

“I think the library is for the whole area,” she said. “So maybe they should change those statutes.”

The town board chair hopes to appoint new members to the board by early October.

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