BOISE, Idaho — On Monday, people living in the Meridian Library District voiced their opinions on the possible dissolution of the Meridian Library District to the Ada County Board of Commissioners.
Several hundred people showed up to the hearing in response to a recent petition filed by a group called the “Concerned Citizens of Meridian.” The group is accusing the library district of allowing books and other materials on their shelves targeted at sexualizing minors.
The group also claims the library district board members refuse to discuss policy on the topic and have shut down conversations about “obscene and sexually explicit material.”
The hearing ended after four hours; public testimony will continue at another meeting on Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse. Once public testimony wraps up, Ada County commissioners will have ten days to decide whether to put the issue on the ballot.
During their initial argument, the “Concerned Citizens of Meridian” addressed what they called “myths” other people believe about their petition.
Group spokesperson Michael Hon said their number one priority is to protect children.
He said they do not want to get rid of the library; they merely want to reestablish it with different leadership. If voters decide to dissolve the library, he said they will immediately submit another petition to reestablish the library district with a board that is in line with community standards.
“The Meridian Library District is a critical part of our community; we love it, we need it, he said. “The real problem lies with the trustee board and the library director.”
He pointed out various exhibits containing books with sexual material that are “directly accessible to children without parental consent.” He said these books harm minors and that library leadership continues denying their existence.
Hon also said the petition does not infringe on First Amendment rights and pushed back on claims that it’s the parent’s responsibility to monitor library material.
“We as parents are taking the responsibility; that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “If parents have to follow around their children like a hawk, then it’s no longer a safe space.”
While rebuking claims made by the “Concerned Citizens of Meridian,” Megan Larsen, library district board of trustee’s chair, said guardians should have the final say on what books their children check out, not the government.
She also said people should not have the ability to choose what books other families deem “appropriate” for their children since all families have different values.
Larsen also said the library district already has numerous tools in place for parents and guardians to monitor what their children read. Parents must consent to their children getting library cards. They can also get emails listing what their children check out.
She requested the board of commissioners deny the petition.
“If you determine this item should move forward and voters were to approve dissolution, the library will not be reorganized, … it will cease to exist, with every building, every computer and every book disposed of. With the remaining funds deposited to the general fund of Ada County," Larsen said.
Most of the public testimony was in favor of the library district and urged the commissioners to stop the petition.
“Libraries are about so much more than what’s on the shelf,” one testifying community member said. “They’re about creating a safe place for the community.”
Several people also pointed out that Board of Trustees positions are elected, and that people have the ability to vote for who they want overseeing the board.
Several parents testified. One mother recalled a recent experience when she returned a book to the library that she didn’t want her child to read. She said it’s on parents to monitor what books their children bring home.
“Just because it’s not appropriate for my child right now doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in the library and that other children shouldn’t have access to it,” she said.
Another mother in favor of dissolving and reestablishing the library district said her 4-year-old child once attempted to read a book at the library with sexual material. She supports labeling certain books and putting them in their own section.
“[The library is] supposed to be a safe place. And if it’s not safe for every parent for every parenting style, how can [the board of trustees] claim it’s safe,” she said.
One dad said he doesn’t have time to read 25 books to ensure his child reads age-appropriate books.
Another community member claimed the board of trustees continues denying inappropriate books are in the library and that they refuse to involve concerned citizens in conversations addressing the issue.
“Let the parents decide and put it on the ballot,” she urged commissioners.
Meridian Mayor Robert Simison spoke out against the petition on behalf of the City and the City Council, saying the petition does not productively address people’s issue with content.
Simison said he believes dissolving the library would fail if placed on the ballot in November.
“For the last three years as mayor, I’ve advocated for personal responsibility within our community. That personal responsibility also extends to me being responsible for the actions of my children, whether they like it or not, both legally and from a societal expectation,” he said.
Simison said concerned citizens should vote in the upcoming Meridian Library Board of Trustee election on May 16, which takes place every two years.
“We are taking this path because these elected trustees, who gladly take our taxpayer money, have consistently disregarded all of our efforts to protect our children,” Hon said.
If dissolution is approved, the board of commissioners will dispose of the district’s property. Again, public testimony will continue on Wednesday.
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