MERIDIAN, Idaho —
A library district board meeting is usually about as exciting as the name suggests. However, Wednesday night in Meridian, their library district board meeting was far from boring, due to the more than 200 people packed into the meeting room to share their views on their community library.
The first item of business was swearing in two new trustees by reciting an oath, solemnly swearing to support the constitution, both the U.S and Idaho, and faithfully discharge the duties of a library trustee according to the best of their ability.
Those duties, at least on Wednesday, included listening to more than two hours of testimony, including several from members of the Idaho Liberty Dogs, a group who call themselves Concerned Citizens of Meridian, who wanted to be clear they were not there to dissolve the library district or to ban books.
“But we are here to do what we can to make sure the library conforms to the wishes of Concerned Citizens of Meridian, especially responsible parents who want to protect their children from Marxist indoctrination that seems to be sweeping our country,” said one audience member. “We believe this insidious growth that's happening in our world must be stopped in its tracks and one way we intend to do that is by restricting the kinds of subversive materials available to our children in our libraries. As a taxpayer I should be responsible for what my money supports, my money does not support grooming children, showing private parts in a library to five-year-olds. Men and women, men and men on top of each other. This has nothing to do with being gay. I know that is everything some of these people are about. They have no personality outside of gay. I just don't like other people's ideologies being crammed down my throat and them trying to force me to accept their evil behaviors.”
However, the Liberty Dogs and the other concerned citizens were overwhelmingly outnumbered, as the board heard stories and testimony about how much the library and all its books mean to the people of Meridian.
“Public libraries are such an important piece of our democracy, and we all need to be defending our libraries to the ends of the earth. I'm so thankful for libraries. I'm so thankful for what you do and that you're dealing with what you're dealing with, and I just want you to know how much it means to most of us,” said another audience member.
“I'm a proud Meridian citizen, I'm a Christian, I'm a conservative, I'm a parent, and I'm gay,” said Don Gelsomino, an audience member. “The accusations of grooming, a common dog whistle by bigots, implying LGBTIQ is a choice, I can speak from personal, profound spiritual experience that it is not a choice.”
“I use the library a lot with my children. we use the book 'It's Perfectly Normal' when my husband was deployed and I had to teach my children, my sons, about sex ed. It was not a very comfortable topic when it came up and my husband was on a ship, so I used the book,” said another audience member.
“As a responsible parent for your individual family for your children you should be able choose what your kids read, and what they watch, and you should not impose those beliefs and your values in whatever manner they happen to be, upon all the rest of us,” said another audience member.
So, neither side wants to be imposed upon, like a standoff, and in essence it was. Because there would not be a decision made Wednesday night on books on Meridian library shelves. That’s not what the board does, they simply set the criteria for the collection development policy.
The librarians decide what books get into the building, and the criteria they use is on their website for all to see.
The criteria includes things like diversity, appropriateness, and public demand. It is a point made clear by the library district chair last night, who told KTVB on Thursday, they were more than happy to listen to the concerns of those who showed up, even if they cannot do anything about it.
Meridian Library District Board Chair Megan Larsen: Normally, very minimal attendance at our meetings. Sometimes zero, sometimes one or two, but rarely more than two. It was a very unusual meeting for us. In my time on the board, I've never seen a turnout like that.”
Brian Holmes: You made it clear last night, the board, your job is to set policy but not choose books. What did you take from last night?
Larsen: We're precluded as a governmental entity to set limitations based on viewpoint, for us to restrict books would be a first amendment violation, that's censorship. We understand parents are concerned about what their kids are reading. We strongly encourage them to be involved. Our expectations are that parents will know what their kids are checking out. So, we have tools to help them do that. They can add their email to their child's library card and see when books are due and what items are on hold. They can log into their child's account and see what's being checked out, so all kinds of tools for parents to be involved. That's our expectation. We are not a childcare facility where a parent can drop off their kid unattended. Our expectation is that parents will be involved, and we have tools to help them do that.
“As it stands now, according to current meridian library policy, you can count on librarians to help you find any of these books, take you through the checkout process, or even deliver them directly to your home, all without a single question about how old you are and certainly not with any effort to speak with a parent before releasing the book to a minor,” said one audience member.
Larsen: Of course not. We have a first amendment right to read whatever we want to, and people have privacy. It is a limitation on first amendment rights if I say, 'well, what are you checking out, and why?' and checking your age. People should be able to check out the books that they want without interference without governmental entities like a library.
Holmes: What about the suggestion they don't want these books banned, or even removed, but just set aside in a special section?
Larsen: So many of those books they've brought up are in the adult section. But for us to place a book behind a counter and say, 'you need to show us your I.D. and prove your age before we will let you have that book. It's pretty clearly a first amendment violation.
Holmes: So, is there a legal aspect to it?
Larsen: Absolutely and the Nampa library faced that back in 2008. They attempted to do a policy like that, restricting a book placing it behind the counter and people had to ask for it, and they faced some pretty costly litigation, so they rescinded that policy. These are not new issues, they’re well tested in the courts.
Holmes: As somebody who's been involved with Meridian library for as long as you have, what was it like to sit there and hear words like ‘indoctrination’, ‘grooming,’ ‘Marxism’ being thrown at you and your library?
“Our youth of today are being targeted by irresponsible adults who wish to indoctrinate them,” said an audience member.
“What we want is for the sexualization and grooming of all children to stop once and for all,” said another audience member.
“My money does not support grooming children,” said another audience member.
“We want to protect our children from Marxist indoctrination that seems to be sweeping our country,” said another audience member.
“More socialist, Marxist ideologies will be infiltrating our public libraries, which I find appalling,” said another audience member.
Larsen: That inflammatory language is unfortunate, but it's not well thought out. It's not really considering what's happening at libraries and how they're actually used. I spend hours there every month. I talk to a lot of families that are using the library, I've heard a lot of great stories about the meaningful impact that the library is having on their life and the value that they get out of it. It just doesn't feel like they are in the same world that I am. I think often folks that have a real negative view of a library haven't been to one in a while. And we will continue to try to help people feel comfortable in the library and get their own family's needs met. There are no two families that come into the library with the same views and values about what kids should read. Everybody is a little bit different. We want to meet the needs of all those families.
The library board is very limited in what it can do when it comes to removing or restricting access to books, but they are excited about their new branches they are about to build.
Larsen mentioned Wednesday night that the board received 50 written comments this past week. 49 were in support of a diverse and inclusive collection and the freedom to read.
To be clear, most of the books brought up last night are not in the children's section of the library, and few are even in the Meridian collection.
Larsen reminded us, if someone has a problem with an item there is a reconsideration process which is also detailed on their website. It starts with writing to the library director.
At one point, we were told the Concerned Citizens of Meridian submitted a list of 53 items they wanted removed and restricted. A list they sent to the board, not the library director.
The book “Gender Queer” was the only book to get a reconsideration request. It went through the process; the result was not appealed to the board and so it remains in the collection, but that does not mean the book remains in the library.
There is quite the wait list for Gender Queer, likely due to the attention it has received lately.
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