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After two years of debate, the Campbell County Public Library Board fires their library director

A blue-walled corner of the Campbell County Public Library in Gillette for children.
Campbell County Public Library
The children's section at the Campbell County Public Library in Gillette.

A few hundred Gillette residents packed into a large open room in the Campbell County Public Library for a special library board meeting on July 28. The goal of it was todismiss library director Terri Lesley, who had been director for 11 years and has worked at the library for 27 years.

“The easiest thing in the world would have been for me to resign at any time during the last two years but these years have been hard on my staff as well and they have deserved my support and for me not to take the easy way out,” Lesley told the board before they made a decision.

Most of those in attendance were in support of Lesley, like resident Christy Gerrits, who said the board put Lesley in an impossible situation.

“I can guarantee you, there will be lawsuits,” she said. “I only hope that the cost of fighting these lawsuits comes out of you, and not the county tax dollars that I contribute to, because I am totally against what you have done.”

Not all of those who attended were on Lesley’s side. Resident Karyl Meyer said she supports the removal of books to aid children in their development.

“This library, yes, is a very nice library, but we need to have judgment as adults that are in charge of what kids learn at what age,” she said. “And that's all we're asking is that the books that are inappropriate for different age groups be moved.”

Around 30 people wanted to speak during public comment, though it was cut short after a supporter of Lesley’s used a profanity, which the board chair said is against the public comment rules.

Lesley spoke her last words as director saying her concern is for the future of the library staff.

“All I have ever tried to do to the best of my ability was to provide them that in the end I feel like I've let them down in some regards that there must have been something more I could have done,” she said. “But that's now in the board’s hands.”

The board voted to fire Lesley on a 4-1 vote.

Lesley’s ousting concerned her refusal to remove or relocate books on sex education and LGBTQ+ issues for children and teens. This isn’t the first time she’s come under fire. Some in the community have been advocating for her removal for the past two years.

Lesley is the first public library director in the state to be fired for these reasons. Librarians nationwide have been feeling the heat from their communities.

“I know that was a very hard blow,” said Conrrado Saldivar, president of the Wyoming Library Association. “It has been felt by all librarians in Wyoming. It was shocking, it's upsetting.”

Saldivar said other librarians are feeling the heat as well.

“We are seeing people who are considering taking early retirement, school librarians who are looking at transferring their degrees maybe to an academic or community college library,” he said. “That's a little bit less of that political pressure that public libraries are seeing.”

Saldivar was recently in Buffalo meeting with school librarians, many of which said the attitude towards what they do has shifted.

“A lot of them were saying how five years ago they enjoyed going to their job and not having to worry about all of the negative perceptions that people have on libraries and library staff being called pedophiles and groomers,” Saldivar said. “That's not something that we had seen up until two years ago.”

Recently, Nate Shoutis, a librarian at Lander Valley High School left his position at the school after nearly a decade. WyoFile reported he attributed his departure to the rising climate of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, and a recent school board policy that gives the board the final say on what books can be in the library.

But many are supportive of the decision to fire the Campbell County Public Library Director. That includes a majority of the five-member Campbell County Commission, who appoints the library board. Four out of the five said they have no regrets about their board selections.

For now, the library will be managed by Brandy Elder, the county’s human resources director. She will be in the position until a permanent replacement is hired.

And since the firing, the library board has altered the requirements for the position. Member Sage Bear is supportive of the change.

“The American Library Association has been on this march for quite some time and that's evidenced by how strongly all the librarians believe in their ideology,” she said. “I would like to get away from a master's in library science.”

A master’s is now only preferred but not required. The application for a new library director is open and applications will be reviewed in about two weeks.

Corrected: August 17, 2023 at 12:00 PM MDT
This feature misattributed the following quote to to Gail Cruse.

"I can guarantee you, there will be lawsuits. I only hope that the cost of fighting these lawsuits comes out of you, and not the county tax dollars that I contribute to, because I am totally against what you have done.”

It was actually Christy Gerrits.

This feature has been updated the article to reflect that. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

The spelling of Karyl Meyer's name has also been changed to reflect it's accurate spelling.
Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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