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CLN board pushes ahead with materials policies

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | December 2, 2023 1:09 AM

POST FALLS — Dismissing words of caution from Community Library Network directors, a fellow trustee and without advice from library network legal counsel, the board majority unanimously approved drafts of its updated Materials Selection Policy and a new Materials Withdrawal and Reconsideration Policy during a special meeting Thursday at the Post Falls Library.

Chair Rachelle Ottosen, Vice Chair Tim Hanley and Trustee Tim Plass cast the votes as Trustee Vanessa Robinson was absent and Trustee Katie Blank left the meeting early. The board’s attorney, Colton Boyles, was also not present because of a personal emergency.

“In our last meeting, I thought it was decided that the attorney was going to review this and it would probably not be wise for us to spend a great deal of time until we understand that our policy is legally aligned, so I don’t know why we would be talking about this when we haven’t heard from the attorney,” Assistant Library Director Lindsey Miller-Escarfuller said.

Boyles briefly weighed in on the policy at the Nov. 16 meeting, but has yet to receive the policy to review and return to the board with recommendations.

“We have got to do something with it now, and give it back to him if we’re going to make any changes, or else approve it,” Plass said, adding that he had several changes to propose.

Library Director Alexa Eccles said it would not be appropriate to work through the drafts without legal counsel present. Blank said the board should be trying to protect itself against lawsuits.

“OK, so, we’re not approving the policy or even the section, we’re just saying that we got through that section without changes, but there may be changes later at the end,” Ottosen responded.

Eccles found one sentence added to the “objective and scope” section to be questionable.

“No specific book or material was contemplated by or known to the Board during the enactment of this policy, and it is entirely unknown what, if any future books or materials could be subject to this policy,” it reads.
“I’m not sure I understand the purpose of this sentence. It kind of seems like to avoid liability of the current board is how I’m interpreting it or reading it currently,” she said. “I think you could take out that entire sentence.”

Hanley, who drafted the proposed policy with edits from Plass, said the sentence shows the board isn’t focusing on a particular work or piece of material.

“It’s basically a legal sentence, in my opinion, that says we’re not doing this because we don’t like ‘Gender Queer’ or whatever goofy books are out there,” Hanley said.

Plass asked to remove “taken as a whole or in part” from the “harmful to minors” definition. Historically, literary works are evaluated as a whole, rather than by their parts.

Blank said taking that out will leave the network open for a legal confrontation, as that piece is from Idaho Code. Previously, Boyles had specifically said to take out the words “or in part,” to which Plass expressed opposition.

Eccles asked the board to recognize Miller-Escarfuller, who wished to discuss implementation of these changes, but was shut down by an objection from Plass.

“What specifically is the objection?” Eccles asked. “She’s behaved professionally, she has three decades of library experience. This is a very significant policy and she directly reports to the staff that implements it.”

Plass said the assistant director is not a board member and he didn’t want to divert the conversation. This happened again later in the meeting.

Eccles brought up Boyles’ recommendation for the policy to use definitions from Idaho, rather than Oklahoma, which is apparently one source Hanley drew from while creating the draft. She said it needs to be Idaho language because the board exists in Idaho and follows Idaho law. Hanley suggested they remain as written and to change them if Boyles says to do so.

“I don’t know that I care particularly what state they came from,” Hanley said. “It’s basically pretty clear.”

Blank questioned why the board would use language from any state other than Idaho.

Eccles said she is offended by one of the definitions, referring to “depiction or description of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state,” found in the “nudity” section.

“I’m also not in the belief that we should have ‘sadomasochistic abuse’ or ‘flagellation’ or ‘torture’ in the policy,” she said. “I think it can be written in a way that people understand and it is not so graphic.” 

Staff feedback has been to require staff members to be 18 to review the policy, Eccles said.

“These are very offensive terms, personally, so I would recommend if we’re not held to a legal standard that we have a moral standard,” she said.

Hanley said it’s unfortunate that such explicit words must be used.

“That’s just what’s going on, that’s where we are and if that’s what’s necessary in a policy, I say we leave it there,” he said. “It’s probably not as bad as some of the books in the library.”

Regarding the selection process, Ottosen tried to remove the word “recreational” from the range of materials the network purchases, which would have whittled it down to materials that simply meet informational and educational needs of library patrons.

“Libraries were created for educational purpose, and I don’t think it’s really the proper role of government to entertain people,” Ottosen said.

Hanley responded it’s probably appropriate as people read fiction, which is a large section of the library, and fiction is entertainment.

Plass tried to add a “compliance of policy” section he found from a Wyoming source at the end of the Materials Selection Policy, which would have required Eccles to provide a report every two months about which books had been purchased by the library and which ones may have been construed as violating the policy.

“It feels like it is an attempt by the board to threaten and intimidate staff,” Eccles said. “I don’t know if that was the intent. Again, policy setting, and then implementation and then enforcement of library policies are the role of the director. So, I’m not quite sure what is intended in what would meet this need other than a, ‘Yes, I’m doing my job, we’re in compliance with local, federal and state laws and library policies.’”

Ottosen said she didn’t view it as a threat.

“We are compliant with this policy as it’s written right now,” Eccles said. “Library staff are compliant. Library staff are doing their jobs. So I don’t understand what you’re saying or implying in that statement.”

Plass said it’s not a threat but a “yes” would not be sufficient and he wants a public record of how the network is compliant with the policy as well as reports of materials that might be “close calls” and why they were purchased. He asked her to be creative with it so trustees wouldn’t have to do the research.

“It’s completely inappropriate to put this in a board policy. I don’t have any problem holding staff accountable. That is my job. Ensuring that the library’s policies are met is my job. It’s not the board’s job,” Eccles said. “Putting a statement in here that I have to prove every two months that I am doing my job and staff are doing their job is inappropriate and it’s a misdirection of this board’s actual duties and role.”

“We’re not after anybody for not doing their job,” Plass said with a laugh. “Just show that what we’re buying meets the policy and be creative.”

He added he didn’t want to have trustees do the work of looking through and then researching what the book is to find out if somebody’s definition violates it.

A list of these books would be fine, he said.

“We’re now creeping toward content-based, and I’m going to recommend we not make further comment,” Eccles said. “It sounds like you want me to make lists of books for children and teens that involve areas of sexual content or homosexuality that people in the community might object to. Is that what you’re asking for? Don’t answer that if it is, but that’s what I’m hearing behind this sentiment. And again, this policy needs to be neutral and implementation also needs to be neutral, and cannot be based on content.”

Blank asked if the library has anything in the children’s department that violates this policy, to which Eccles said no. Blank expressed concerns about targeting certain books.

“There are books that have been seen as violating this policy dramatically that don’t at all,” she said. “You ask a director to form a list of books that cause concern to a certain section of the community, you violate other sections of the community’s freedom to read rights.”

Blank said this would give the board more freedom to censor.

“So, I guess we’ve censored every book we’ve ever not purchased in the history of the library, so that’s not really the right use of that word,” Ottosen replied.

Lacking consensus, the attempt to include this section failed.

During the discussion about the new and separate Materials Withdrawal and Reconsideration Policy, trustees talked about books not appropriate for minors not only being removed from the youth section but also not being placed in the adult section of the library. They discussed placing them behind the counter or in another inaccessible area where they would not be displayed as it is a difficult legal process to entirely remove books.

“I don’t want to see a display of books behind the librarian at the counter with all the banned books up there,” Hanley said.

Ottosen said she’s not sure that would be legal, “but we can do it and see what our attorney has to say about it.”

Also during the meeting, the trustees again discussed insurance needs and how the network is over budget with its current agreements. The board majority also refused to have a public forgone tax hearing that would have taken place later this month. In a statement to The Press, Eccles explained how the Community Library Network’s board decided not to levy the maximum allowable increase in property taxes by $269,590 for fiscal year 2024, although Idaho statute allows taxing districts to reserve taxes not collected for future use; 1% of the forgone tax balance can be used for unanticipated or maintenance and operations demands and 3% for capital improvements needs in future budget years.

“The library board has chosen not to reserve the FY2024 funds of $269,590 and will consequently not be able to add these funds into FY2025 or any future library operations or capital budgets,” Eccles said. “By the library board’s decision to reduce the tax levy amount for fiscal year 2024, it will affect the library’s future ability to collect taxes and will over time cap the library’s ability to fund future services and meet the growing population demands.”

The next regular meeting will be held Dec. 21.