Library Board talks budget cuts, COVID-19 and gets an earful on books

Resident Matt Heath tells the library board he was bullied growing up and that the book protesters are bullying the library. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

After a two-hour joint meeting with the Campbell County Commissioners on Monday, the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) Board met for another hour to take care if it’s monthly business. The board was briefed on several topics by Director Terri Lesley before listening to 45 minutes of public complaints regarding the ongoing book issues.

Preparing for budgets, not filling open positions

“As you know, our library and our county are facing some challenges last year and the year ahead,” Lesley said regarding the past budget cuts and possible upcoming cuts.

Preparing for a worst-case scenario at budget time, Leslie said they will freeze hiring for open positions and revisit the matter after decisions are made at the county level.

“We are monitoring our current full-time equivalents (FTE) where we have had some resignations,” she said. “I have some projections on what we might be able to cut back on in terms of our FTEs.”

The plan is to fill those roles within the current staff as well as continue to look for other ways to further cut back on FTEs.

“We are just positioning ourselves to be in a good place for the budget message that will come later this year from the county commissioners,” the director explained. “We don’t know what will be asked of us, but we are trying to be in a good position by preparing for all of that.”

There are a few other part-time positions currently vacant that the library will be not filling at this time while Lesley braces for the new budget.

Library traffic overcomes COVID-19

The ongoing Coronavirus situation that has led to increased cases locally is not preventing the community from utilizing everything the library has to offer.

“The library continues to have increased use,” Lesley told the board. “Patrons entering the library is up 44 percent over last year and circulation of library materials is up 17 percent.”

Lesley said COVID-19 has not affected her staff.

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“We are watching the current situation of COVID-19 in the community where there’s a 40 percent increase in cases this month,” she said. “Currently no library staff members are out because of COVID-19.”

Upcoming happenings

Google Libraries Build Business Grant has been put to good use and the public will get to see that money in action beginning this week.

“The video lab is going to be rolled out to the public this Friday, Oct. 1, at the Art in the Stacks event,” Lesley announced. “I’m really excited to offer this consumer-friendly, business-friendly video lab which includes a green screen. We will be promoting a lot of our business services.”

The director also discussed the Art in the Stacks this Friday as well as Halloween events and this year’s family holiday movie, Beetlejuice, on Oct. 30.

“We invite everyone to Art in the Stacks this Friday,” Lesley said. “It is a cooperative effort between the Library Foundation, Friends of the Library and the Library which includes its board.”

Art in the Stacks begins at 5:30 p.m. and includes tours of the art collection throughout the facility.

“We have a really nice art collection. Those tours are really fun, so I encourage everyone to come out, it will be fun,” Lesley said.

More scrutiny on “graphic” and challenged books

Resident Sarah Parker informs the library board of concerns she has with books available to her two teenagers. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

There were 19 citizens signed up to speak during the meeting’s public comment portion, most of whom were venting about challenged books and book placement in the library.

The lengthy portion of the meeting limited each commenter to three minutes.

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Sarah Parker, who has two children ages 16 and 14, spoke first about a book her family has checked out titled Gender Queer. She said it was pulled from a shelf for the ages seventh through 12th grades.

“Some of what’s in the book I can’t read here, but there is some that I can,” Parker explained. “It’s a memoir of a child going through life finding her sexuality and stuff like that. She goes through some pretty graphic descriptions of masturbation and things she discussed with her sister like tasting vaginal fluid.”

She added that the book also includes depictions of pedophilia.

“It’s like fantasy based on ancient Greek pedophilia stuff. It’s pretty alarming,” Parker said. “It actually has some pictures, it’s a graphic novel, it has pictures of people wearing strap ons and performing oral sex on each other. It’s not censored in any way.”

“My son was 12 and 13 when he was in seventh grade, so he would have had access to read this,” Parker said.

Parker’s concerns were echoed by several other audience members regarding other books.

The next few public commenters let their frustrations be known about the availability of books that include “graphic” sexual conduct, acts and pedophilia.

“So many of the books we are talking about here contain pedophilia,” said Gail Cruse, who read from additional books that described oral sex and other explicit material. “There’s no warnings of this stuff. What is going on? When did it become ok to expose children to life-threatening destructive practices. I feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland that we are still having this discussion. That wrong is right, and good is evil, and evil is good.”

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Cruse said all information isn’t equal.

“How about beastiality? Are there any books about beastiality in our library? They’re out there, did you know that? Fun with your Pets, that’s a title,” she said. “How about pipe bomb making? That’s information. Do we have that in our library? All information is not equal. We have a responsibility to evaluate information that is made available to our children.”

Susan Sisti, who has made her concerns well known over the last three months, gave the board three minutes of her opinion as well. She said “there is a ton of porn in the library that’s vile” and that there are 13 more challenges on the way.

“I would have no problem with a well-written book about sex education that would present all sides, including abstinence because teens are curious,” Sisti said. “What we find is hardcore, offensive. I honestly think many of these books are written by hardcore perverted men.”

Senator Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) spoke midway through the public comments regarding his concern about how challenges are being handled.

“We hide behind the First Amendment when it’s convenient. When we have a group of people who want to do something else, it’s censorship,” McKeown said. “At the end of the day you say it’s only the parent’s responsibility. You can’t ensure responsibility. Parents can sign every library card you want. You can’t sign another individual’s rights away, no matter how old they are.”

McKeown also mentioned that challenged material should be taken off the shelf until a decision is made.

My other question is, when we look at these challenges what did we do as a government over COVID-19 to anyone who was in contact with anybody else with COVID-19?” McKeown asked. “They got to be quarantined too. So, if I put in a request to have a book pulled, why isn’t that book pulled until it’s adjudicated? Why would you leave something dangerous out there, or something someone feels is dangerous, until you can prove it’s not?”

One of the final speakers of the meeting was resident Matt Heath. He said the bullying tactics by the books challengers is dangerous.

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“When I got involved with this [book concerns] I went to a meeting August 11th and the focus was not on the books, the focus was on anything LGBQ related being available to kids,” he said. “Now it’s focused more on books because challenges are great. We got a lot of bullies sitting over my left shoulder. I’ve been called child molester, a bad parent, a liberal, a lefty, I’ve been accused of abusing old people and harassing old people. They’ve said, ‘may God save my kids from me’ and ‘may God save me’”.

“I was bullied a lot as kid. I know what bullies are and I know what bullying behavior is, and name calling is that,” Heath said. So, what you are seeing is a lot of shock politics. You’re seeing it on the signs. You heard it today from Mr. [commissioner] Shelstad today, lets close the library instead of doing something about it. Even if he was upset, that just blows my mind that’s where he went with that. I don’t see any intentional evil here. The community divide isn’t the library, it’s a dozen people who decided they should divide the community. This is hard to watch.”

Heath closed with a reminder.

“Hypocrites and bullies need to be stood up against,” he said.

The Library Board will be meet again Monday, Oct. 25 at the Wright Branch Library.