When Amy Vance and Martha Martin checked out nearly all of the books from the Rancho Peñasquitos branch of the San Diego Public Library, they had a nefarious plan. The incompetent duo emailed the administrator that they would not return the “inappropriate” books.
The duo thought they had the upper hand with the plan to hold the books hostage, but instead, their plan backfired spectacularly. They inadvertently raised $45,000 for the library to expand its LGBTQ+-themed programming and materials.
“Minor children have the right to belong to a community that respects their innocence and allows families to have conversations about sex and sexual attraction privately, and only when parents deem it appropriate,” the women wrote in a June 15 email to the library after checking the books out. “It’s time for the American public libraries to once again be a respectful space for young children to freely explore great ideas that unite and inspire us all, rather than places where controversial and divisive new ideological movements are given free rein to promote their theories and policy positions about sexuality to children without the consent or notification of parents.”
Manager Adrianne Peterson told the New York Times that she felt bad that the Pride display wasn’t up to par this year due to staff vacations and training. So when the pair opted to subvert the system, she was surprised that the display had caused such consternation.
Libraries typically have lax return policies and allow patrons to check out books repeatedly. The fees for returning them late are minimal and rarely enforced to encourage low-income people to check out materials without worrying about charges.
But when Peterson shared the women’s email, city councilor Marni von Wilpert amplified the news, asking people to support the library. And that’s where it all went sideways for the would-be censors.
“Stacks” of Amazon boxes began to pour into the building as people from around the nation replaced the stolen books – including ones that the system didn’t have already. Thousands of dollars in donations were raised for the library, and the city pitched in with an extra $30,000 to help expand the offerings and programming further – including the drag queen story hour, a particular target for rightwing prudes.
After public condemnation and realizing their plan had backfired, the two women returned the books to the library. They’re currently avoiding the media and have no comment on how their plan blew up in their faces.
Across the country, schools and public libraries have increasingly become the focus of conservatives attempting to ban books dealing with the LGBTQ+ experience. At the same time, armed members of far-right hate groups have shown up at local libraries to intimidate patrons attending drag queen story time events in some states.