After listening to concerns and complaints from many people during the last three months regarding the library and challenged books, Campbell County Commissioners had a chance to publicly share and discus those issues in an intense quarterly joint meeting Tuesday with the Campbell County Public Library board.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours, but it was a three-minute exchange between commissioner Del Shelstad and library director Terri Lesley that left supporters on both sides of the library saga surprised. The commissioner said to fix the problem or else.
“I have one more thing Mr. Chairman. It was brought up the need for extra funding for extra people to read these books, don’t come to me for extra funding,” Shelstad said, in regard to commissioner Rusty Bell asking if extra funding would be needed for overtime to get through all the challenges. “At this point, I’m saying we shouldn’t fund you (the library) at all.”
Commissioner DG Reardon, who attended the meeting electronically, asked if he heard Shelstad correctly.
“Did I hear commissioner Shelstad say we shouldn’t fund the library?” he asked. “Is this an extension that we should just close the library?”
“My suggestion is that we don’t fund the library,” Shelstad said, if issues are not resolved sooner than later. “If that means we close the library, then we close the library.”
All the commissioners in attendance had questions regarding the four-month review process and the placement of “graphic” books in the youth sections. There were more questions than answers and that led to Shelstad’s frustration.
“Mrs. Lesley uses the American Library Association (ALA) for certain standards – with the exception of the age limitations on young adults. They hide behind them (ALA) on every other case, but when it comes to the case of what age is classified as a young adult, they (ALA) would say 17-21, but you say 12 to graduation. There is a significant difference between a 12-year-old and 17-year-old.”
Lesley responded that this is not an isolated case.
“Commissioner, this is the standard across the country. What we are doing is not unusual. Seventh grade to 12th grade is where young adult services are focused across the country,” she said.
According to the ALA website, it states “The American Library Association defines young adults as individuals between 12 and 18 years of age. These years are developmentally challenging and the definition of ‘service’ to this group may encompass everything from quality reference (homework) help to community collaboration.”
Shelstad said there are many examples of protecting youth when necessary.
“If my child walks into the movie theater and wants to watch a movie and that movie is rated R, (the movie theaters) are not putting that on the parents. They say it’s not appropriate for kids,” Shelstad explained.
“I own a gun store. A 10- or 12-year-old comes into my store and wants to buy a gun, they can’t. Why? Because it’s not appropriate for that age. Why do we have to look at our library and say it’s open to anything no matter what it is? I fundamentally think that is wrong.”
Commissioner Colleen Faber also voiced concern over books in the young adult and children’s sections of the library. She also questioned the library’s pattern of only following the ALA guidelines.
“The American Library Association is not a national standard, it’s a non-profit organization. The ALA is known for its liberal viewpoints and known for discriminatory treatment of conservative views,” Faber said. “Their keynote speaker this year is Nicole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 project. Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton were some of their past speakers. That’s probably not really the viewpoint the majority of our area sides with.”
The commissioners were reminded kids can’t just check out anything they want. Library board members described the process of library cards and young children having a parent-approved card to check out items. If it’s an inappropriate book or material, the checkout would be denied.
Shelstad said the book he challenged as a concerned parent, which was denied, is titled This Book Is Gay.
“It has nothing to do with that fact that it is about gay. It’s about the fact that is inappropriate for our kids,” he said. Shelstad went on to read the lines, “How to give a handy” and “porn is fine and fun” which are two of many mentions in the book that make it inappropriate for children, he noted.
How the meeting started
Concerns the commissioners addressed in the meeting were the two complaints they are faced with at every meeting. The four-month maximum time frame for a challenged book process and the placement of “graphic” material on the preteen shelves.
Campbell County chairman Bob Maul started the discussion with his own thoughts before any library discussion was put on the table.
“This is a statement from me, not from the Campbell County commissioners. This is a Bob Maul statement. I appreciate the desires to be thorough and cautious in your reviews and reconsideration of books and other resource material made available at the library. It seems the review policy process would benefit by condensing the levels of review. You currently have two levels of staff review before you proceed to the board. It seems the process would benefit by having a staff review include whoever you want to have at the staff level,” Maul explained. “If there is a continued disagreement, the review would then go to the library board. This is [a] consistent review processes from staffs throughout the county. I’m concerned the review process is rather lengthy and makes the review process appear ineffective.”
Maul continued by reminding the library board that complaints have been brought to the commissioners since the first week of July.
“We’ve had nearly three months of this constant comment period of the context of various books. I’d like to see Terri and the board come up with a more streamlined process that would come closer to two months,” he said. “Use the information that is already in the book review online. I looked at some of these myself and there’s reviews online that state particular books are of that age and contents are presented at that age group. It also states on the same review they should be done with parental guidance and discussion on the subject matter because the subject matter they feel is over their head. It states it right there in the review, I didn’t have to read the whole book. All I did was spend 2-3 three minutes. There you have it.”
Maul noted that it’s pretty red in this part of the country.
“We’re not going to agree with everything that Los Angeles, Chicago or New York does. It doesn’t mean we want to ban things from the library, but it does mean we need to be more conservative. If we are going to provide more of what this community desires, we need to think more like a redneck.”
The chairman’s personal comment was a prelude to a long meeting that was heated at times.
“I want to set the record straight with some misinformation. Let’s start with the book challenge timeline. A request for reconsideration takes 30 business days for staff to respond to a challenge. This time is needed to review the challenged material, gather reviews and write a little information to the patron about the decision,” Lesley said. “The letter sent to the patron offers the opportunity to talk to the library director about the decision. If the patron chooses to visit with the director, the director typically makes a quick decision. If the patron is still not satisfied, the director will schedule the matter to go before the library board.”
Lesley added that the maximum amount of time is 120 days, but that is not the case for every challenge. In fact, she said the first official challenge was not until Aug. 9. She said she is unsure why there is an outcry about the process when responses have been sent out around the 30-day mark.
“Although slow responses from patrons can delay the process, from beginning to end challenges that are appealed to the library board have historically taken less than 60 days. It isn’t taking as long as you might think,” Lesley said. “Given the unprecedented number of current challenges which has never [been] seen before at any public library in the United States – we are going to be busy. We have a lot of challenges to respond to but there are a lot more to do. It takes a lot of work to go through a challenge, it doesn’t happen instantly. The merits and faults are both weighed in our decision. It is absolutely our top priority.”
That was not good enough for concerned commissioners.
Lesley explained that in seven short weeks, the library has received 35 reconsideration complaints by 14 different people. Those challenges cover 18 separate titles, and 16 responses to seven of those books have already been sent out.
With the record number of challenges to weed through, audience member Susan Sisti informed the board that it’s just the beginning. She said 13 more challenges have been filed this week.
Even with the challenges growing, commissioners want the process shortened.
“This is creating division in our community, we need to take action on this,” Shelstad said, noting that a week should suffice.