The Campbell County Library Board amends mission statement, cuts ties with state library association
The Campbell County Public Library Board voted at their monthly meeting on Oct. 24 to amend the library’s mission statement. They also are severing ties with the Wyoming Library Association and eliminating any public funds from being spent on American Library Association (ALA) memberships for staff. This comes after four new library board members have been appointed this year to replace those whose who term limited or decided not to reapply for the board.
The major topic of debate centers around books on sex education and LGBTQ issues aimed at children and teens in those respective sections of the library. Supporters of the right to read as well as opponents of the books have often clashed over their views.
A change to the library’s mission statement was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Charlie Anderson being the lone ‘no’ vote. The words ‘while reflecting community standards’ were approved as an addition to the existing statement, which previously stated, “Our mission is to provide diverse cultural opportunities for reading, learning and entertainment to all citizens of our community. We lead the way to a universe of information with personal service and technology.” The four words are to be inserted between ‘opportunities’ and ‘for reading.’
“The reason I want to continue with this mission statement is because we rely heavily on the librarians and they choose the books, they get to pick what comes into our community,” said board chair Sage Bear. “I want them to think about our community.”
Anderson is a long-time attorney. He expressed his concerns that an amended mission statement could possibly put the library in a difficult situation legally. He said it could conflict with constitutional free speech protections and cited a county commission statement on tolerance and a city resolution promoting a diverse community and anti-LGBTQ discrimination. He added that the board’s attorney also raised concerns as to whether it was in the board’s best interest to make the change.
“I think that we’re running a risk with a new mission statement of breathing a lot of life and expression into community standards, which can lead some people to think that we would be able to violate the First Amendment under the guise of following something as nebulous as community standards, although at the same time community standards are consistent with our current [prior to Oct. 24] mission statement,” he explained.
The library’s current child protocols were also challenged. At the moment fourth, fifth, and sixth graders aren’t currently required to have an adult present with them, Library Executive Director Terri Lesley said. But some on the board want to require a policy that children 11 and under be supervised by an adult during their time in the library.
“Because people come with their friends, so if you're a seventh grader, and you're a teenager [of a certain age] they want to hang out together,” Lesley explained. “Separately, that is why we choose grades instead of ages.”
Anderson asked if the library has had behavior problems with children that are unattended at the library causing issues for staff or other patrons. Lesley said there haven’t been any major issues.
“If that's the case, why would you change that?” Anderson questioned.
“So, there's upset about the books and that the parents need to know they're responsible, that things have evolved,” answered board chair Sage Bear. ”The library is no longer a place where all reading material is appropriate for all children and parents need to understand that and so there we need to put it on our website, what our child policy is, and we need to put signage up letting people know that that's the case.”
After some concerns from Library Executive Director Lesley and some attendees as to how it would impact patrons, the child policy was tabled until next month’s meeting so that the public would have time to give their thoughts on the proposed changes.
Another long-standing source of contention has been the alleged influence of the American Library Association (ALA) on library staff, even though CCPL is not a member of the ALA. Meeting attendees voiced both support and criticism of the organization, with those in support outnumbering those in opposition. The board also voted to remove the CCPL from the Wyoming Library Association, saying that its parent organization is the ALA, which has been criticized by some as pushing an agenda to sexualize and indoctrinate children. The board also elected to disallow any public funds from going towards staff memberships in the ALA.
“This action removes one of our best, most affordable sources of staff development,” Lesley said via email to Wyoming Public Media.
Some supporters of the ALA and freedom to read indicated that Bear’s committee is unnecessary and reflects the position of the minority and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
“I’m an avid reader of children's books, I've read a lot of children's books, just kind of reviewing some of the things I've heard tonight, [it] sounds like we already have somebody to review every book in this library. Have fun with that,” said David Hardesty, a Gillette teacher. “There's a pretty big minority that just has a really big voice that happens in communities. Please ignore that.”
But despite the consensus amongst supporters of the ALA and the freedom to read, the criticism from those in the community who view them as politically motivated and having undue influence also voiced their opinions.
“I thought we needed to zoom out a little bit and see also that our own community has standards and I think our community standards are more conservative than major cities,” said Ed Sisti, a critic of the ALA and certain books in the library. “So, what our library, the American Library Association, and the Wyoming Library Association doesn't like is coming under any scrutiny at all. Books like Gender Queer and others have become a focus not only for people in Campbell County, but across the communities of the nation because of inappropriate sexual content, period. They're the crest of [the] culture crisis.”
Library board meetings have consistently attracted both supporters of the right to read and opponents of books on certain topics to their meetings for the last 15 months.
“I’m concerned that proposed policy changes will be unpopular with our patrons,” Lesley added.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21 at the Campbell County Public Library’s Wyoming Room.