Moon supervisors seem to be exercising new influence over the township’s independent public library system following conservative backlash to a children’s book featuring drag queens.
Although the library is an independent nonprofit organization, township supervisors have the sole authority to appoint library trustees. Typically, Library Board vice president Kathleen Emmerling says, supervisors have deferred to library trustees, allowing them to recruit, interview, and select their own candidates for membership.
But since December 2021, Emmerling says, supervisors have installed four new trustees without consulting them, and many appear to have no interest or expertise in library operations.
“We had not interviewed [the supervisors’ appointees]. We had not been given their letters of interest,” Emmerling, a trustee since 2016, tells Pittsburgh City Paper of two appointments made in January 2022.
Just weeks before, the library had been forced to close temporarily due to violent threats. It all started with a routine Facebook post, Emmerling says.
“Every single picture book that comes into the library is scheduled on Facebook and Instagram to be the Book of the Day, so all picture books are treated equally.”
On Dec. 8, 2021, the featured book was The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, a play on “The Wheels on the Bus” written by Lil Miss Hot Mess, founder of the national nonprofit Drag Queen Story Hour. Drag Queen Story Hour “uses drag to share love and acceptance through inclusive storytelling,” according to its website.
The post garnered comments claiming the children’s book was inappropriate and accusing the library of sheltering pedophiles. After a far-right news site published a “Groomer Alert” targeting the library for having the book in their collection, library staff began receiving the violent threats, largely from individuals residing outside Pennsylvania.
The Facebook post has since been deleted.
According to minutes from a library trustees meeting shortly after the incident, the Moon Township Public Library is one of 15 in the county with at least one copy of the book.
Emmerling tells City Paper that The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish was never physically on display in the Moon Township Public Library due to its overwhelming popularity.
“Something that we have continually had trouble getting across to our colleagues on the Board of Supervisors is, unless your child is on Facebook, they have never seen that book in the Moon Township Public Library,” Emmerling says. “The reason it was never on display at the library is because it was constantly checked out. There was a waitlist for that book, and it never made it back to the shelves. It always went back to another patron.”
During a Dec. 20, 2021 supervisors meeting, about a dozen Moon residents offered public comment on the library and its collection. The majority of speakers were supportive of library leadership, the inclusion of The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish in the catalog, and the library’s commitment to freedom of expression. A few speakers raised concerns about the book’s age-appropriateness, according to a meeting summary.
Emmerling says the supervisors incorrectly told the library board they were not permitted to record the Dec. 20 public meeting.
“We have asked them to point out the objectionable material in the book, and that was not produced,” Emmerling says. “We pointed out that we have a reconsideration of materials form, and there’s a process for this, and no one has filled out that form so that we could properly address the complaint.”
Although the Board of Supervisors has not spoken publicly about their objection to the book and declined to answer any questions from City Paper, Emmerling says the Supervisors have made it clear that they don’t approve of the library’s stance that all of their children’s books deserve equal public promotion.
“They’re holding over our heads very vague but pointed comments like, ‘You need to cool it with those kind of books, if you want to move forward with this process,’ or ‘You all have an agenda, and we are going to reshape the board to counter that,’” Emmerling says.
Samuel McCrimmon, a board trustee since 2020, has similar concerns about where the supervisors might be taking the library.
“The real question right now is what is the place of library, you know, in the township and how important is this library and what does that look like going forward?” he tells CP. “What kind of township do we want?"
At the first public meeting of 2023, supervisors made additional appointments against the trustees’ recommendations.
Having interviewed six candidates, the trustees unanimously recommended one individual to join the board alongside three returning trustees seeking another term. The supervisors reappointed two returning trustees, including Emmerling, but declined to appoint the trustees’ unanimous choice, as well as one of the returning trustees.
Emmerling says the newest picks for the library board are neither qualified nor particularly enthusiastic about libraries.
“Well, you’ve done it again,” Emmerling addressed the supervisors after the Jan. 3 vote. “You’ve unilaterally placed two members on the Moon Township library board. For the record, on the ranked-choice of the six candidates you had to choose from, you chose numbers four and six, one of which is distinctly not qualified. In her review, it does say she said she’s not been inside the library in many years. She is also not a library card holder, nor did she have a particular interest in libraries.”
Repeatedly asked by both Emmerling and the trustees’ top applicant to justify their decision, members of the Board of Supervisors were noncommittal during the meeting.
“I know that things have become a little contentious, you know, but it's nothing against people,” Supervisor Jim Vitale said. “It's something that we just negotiated and figured to put people in certain places.”
“We have, not issues, but we have things that need to be taken care of and done in the next five years,” added board chair Alan Bross.
Emmerling tells CP the library’s purpose is “meeting the needs of our community and caring about the First Amendment and people’s right to read. The library is very much a nonpartisan space. … The library is not to reflect the majority of the community, the library is to reflect all of our community.”