Wichita pastor tries to ‘empty the local library’ of LGBTQ+ books

Wichita — A Wichita pastor recently encouraged members of his church to mark Pride Month by checking out mass amounts of gay- and transgender-themed books from their local library.

The goal? To keep children from accessing the material.

“One way you can love your neighbors and your community is to gather together some of the men in your church and go empty the local library of all their LGBTQ+ books,” pastor Kyle Lammott wrote in a recent post on Instagram. “Start with the kids’ books and work your way up.”

The post featured a photo of more than 100 books checked out of the Andover Public Library. The titles include dozens of young adult novels with LGBTQ characters or themes, books about the Black Lives Matter movement and an autobiography of tennis star Billie Jean King.

Lammott, lead pastor of Exodus Church in east Wichita, said in an email that he plans to return the books he checked out.

Tom Taylor, director of the Andover library, said efforts to rid libraries of controversial books are growing and changing.

“It used to be (that) most challenges … took place in school libraries. And now, public libraries have seen sort of an unparalleled increase in the last few years. So it is very concerning,” Taylor said.

The Andover library allows patrons to check out up to 50 books at a time and keep them for three weeks. After that, they must return the books or renew them for another three weeks. If they don’t, they are billed for the cost of the materials.

Taylor and other area librarians said the protest strategy likely would backfire because checkouts are an indication of demand for certain materials. Libraries track demand as they replenish their collections.

“When there’s a high demand and usage of books, those are the ones we want to keep and even replace if they get damaged or not returned,” Taylor said.

“If the strategy is to get them away from kids, in the short term it would work. But in the long run, we’d be more likely to buy those titles because of the usage.”

Wichita Public Library officials said they highlight LGBTQ books with special displays during Pride Month. They have not noticed an unusual uptick in checkouts at Wichita branches.

Jaime Nix, Wichita’s director of libraries, said it’s important that libraries offer diverse materials that reflect a wide array of people and experiences.

“For anyone’s identity, they need to be able to see themselves in literature,” Nix said. “Having access is just the most incredibly important thing.”

Book bans and challenges are on the rise across the country. The national free speech group PEN America documented more than 10,000 challenges in school and public libraries between July 2021 and December 2023.

In Kansas, dozens of books have been challenged by parents and community members who contend that they’re sexually explicit or promote critical race theory. In November, a public library in St. Marys, Kansas, was forced to remove LGBTQ books for kids in order to keep its building.

Taylor, the Andover librarian, said checking out mass quantities of books does not qualify as a formal complaint or challenge. But it’s a strategy that has popped up recently across the country.

Last summer in San Diego, two protesters checked out all the books from a public library’s Pride display, then said in an email that they would not return the books until the library agreed to remove them permanently. LGBTQ advocates donated books and money for the library to replenish its collection.

Nix, the Wichita librarian, said libraries will continue to advocate for collections that offer diverse stories and experiences.

“Books don’t hurt people. And ideas are important,” she said. “If you don’t like an idea or you believe that book is somehow hurting you, close it and return it.”

— Suzanne Perez reports for Kansas News Service.

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