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Book Ban Rare Victory for Conservatives

The Gwinnett library board's move to ban "The Basketball Diaries" is a victory for two conservative board members who typically hold a minority viewpoint on what belongs on the bookshelves.

Jennifer Toombs, co-founder of Citizens for Family Friendly Libraries, and Ann MacLeod, owner of a Christian bookstore, had the majority Monday in a 2-1 vote to remove the book if it fits the state's legal definition of being harmful to minors. They also held sway on votes to refrain from purchasing any books that meet the definition and to allow a majority of the board to place any book in the parental advisory section.

"If they want to limit the collection to what's appropriate for sixth-graders, that would be very limiting for adults," said board member Debbie Tuschall, who cast the sole vote against the measures.

Board Chairman Andy Pourchier also dislikes the new policies and disagrees with the decision to ban the book, which remains on the shelf while the legal question is reviewed. But Pourchier's hands were tied Monday.

Board member Peggy Tucker was absent, and, as chairman, Pourchier can vote only to break a tie.

How Gwinnett library board members voted on a motion to ban a book, "The Basketball Diaries," if it was deemed harmful to minors by the state:

Jennifer Toombs: In favor
Ann MacLeod: In favor
Debbie Tuschall: Against
Andy Pourchier: Couldn't vote
Peggy Tucker: Didn't attend

The policies are likely to be reversed the next time the full board is present, according to Pourchier. Procedurally, the board cannot rescind an action, he said, but it can carefully word a new motion to achieve the same result.

"The Basketball Diaries" describes the life of a young heroin addict who resorts to prostitution to support his habit.

"I think it's porno," MacLeod said.

The split on the board over the book was repeated when it came time to adopt a fiscal year budget during the same meeting. Tuschall moved to adopt the proposed $11.2 million budget, and MacLeod and Toombs abstained. The chairman now must call a meeting before July 1, or Library Director Jo Ann Pinder says she will be forced to close the doors on the system's nine branches.

MacLeod and Toombs said they did not vote because they did not have enough information. A budget work session was held the day after Memorial Day, even though they both could not be there, they said. Pourchier and Tuschall suggest MacLeod and Toombs were trying to make a statement.

"I don't know what they're up to," Tuschall said, "but they appear to be headed toward closing down the libraries."

Usually, disagreements on the board revolve around whether certain materials should be kept away from minors or removed from the library -- most often because of nudity or sexually graphic content.

The alliance between Toombs and MacLeod is a loose one. Toombs came on board with an activist's agenda to change library policies about sexually oriented materials. MacLeod, a newer appointee, does not claim any association with an activist group.

Detractors have accused them of trying to impose right-wing religious values on the library system. They disagree.

"This isn't religious Bible-thumping," Toombs said. "I think there is religious persecution here just because someone goes to church in their private life."


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