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Police called to heated PF library board meeting

by DEVIN WEEKS
Hagadone News Network | February 18, 2023 1:00 AM

Police were called Thursday to the Post Falls Library during a powder keg of a public comment period at the start of the Community Library Network's board meeting.

One officer said it was a first for him to be called to help calm down a library meeting.

Many commenters vehemently expressed their opposition to materials in the library they find offensive, some accusing the board of creating murderers and rapists for allowing what they consider to be pornographic materials to be accessed by children.

They heckled those with opposing viewpoints, many times calling out "shame," "Satan" and "sexual deviance" and going over the three minutes given to each speaker during the public comment window. A few attendees lashed out at each other and one claimed to be threatened by another attendee.

"If this crowd gets out of hand, law enforcement is very close," Katie Blank, chair of the board, said after repeated requests for civility before the officers arrived. "That's enough."

After a break, the board resumed to discuss its agenda, including the possibility of creating a new tier of a library card, one specifically for juveniles, as a potential solution to the outcry over offensive materials.

Trustee and clerk Regina McCrea said she has talked to Blank and Interim Director Lindsay Miller-Escarfuller to try to understand ways to respond to the public through policy and give parents the empowerment they say they want.

"I have asked to be shown what the books are that people have difficulties with," McCrea said.

In the last two months, she said she has read at least one of the challenged books.

"I'm here to tell you, I agree, that book has sexually explicit content that I would not want my 13-year-old to go and get off the shelf," McCrea said. "I see the concern. It has taken me a long time, but I see it."

She said she would like staff to re-evaluate classifications that are given to certain books, and for the library network to consider some kind of divide between books appropriate for children and those for young adults.

The network's materials selection policy, approved in November, is also something that can be reconsidered, McCrea said.

"This board member is willing to have that come back if need be to see if there are additional measures that we can implement to protect children," she said.

The policy states the responsibility for the selection of library materials rests with the library director. The elected board of trustees guides the selection process through this policy.

"The choice of library materials is an individual matter and, while anyone is free to reject for his or herself materials of which they do not approve, he/she cannot exercise censorship to restrict the freedom of use and access to others," the policy states. "The responsibility for use of library materials by minors rests with their parents or legal guardians."

People are welcome to submit a request for reconsideration of materials. At this time, the network's policy when a book or other type of material is challenged is for that item to remain on the shelf. McCrea said the board could consider removing the challenged material while it is in the reconsideration process if it is in the young adult or children's section.

"As we have been trying to say, this is not a board that is interested in sexualizing children," McCrea said. "I am offended when that terminology is used and it is applied to staff. I am offended when it is applied to me."

Miller-Escarfuller said a juvenile-only card is the best and most sensible solution to this issue, but she has concern about creating a new classification of library card.

"Some of our libraries are very small and asking us to create yet another separate section literally could just mean one shelf over, and I don't know that that will accomplish the goal, but I'm willing to look at that," she said.

She also said she is concerned about pulling material during the reconsideration process.

"The reconsideration is one person's opinion and we would be removing books based, even though it's temporary, on one person's opinion, not the opinion of the community," she said. "That's not a standard or best practice, but I'm more than happy to look into that to see if other places do that."

She said a juvenile-only card will take a lot of work and could not quickly happen.

"This is a multi-month process and will involve many stakeholders within the library behind the scenes," she said.

The Community Library Network will hold special meetings today and Saturday as it conducts interviews with library director candidates.

The issue has also been the focus of meetings in Boundary County and East Bonner County library districts. Patrons in both communities have called on the respective library board to create a restricted area to host "materials containing explicit, graphic sexual content or graphic violence."

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Marty Modance was one of several community members who gave public comment Thursday during a meeting of the Community Library Network board.