Monday, July 15, 2024

EDITORIAL: This book will not have a happy ending

| June 16, 2024 1:00 AM

The culture war battlefield will be littered with casualties over time.

Alexa Eccles won’t be one of them.

Eccles, director of the Community Library Network, announced her resignation effective July 7. In the long history of announced resignations, Eccles’ might be the easiest to understand.

Her tenure as head of the regional group of seven libraries and bookmobile has been a 13-month hard labor prison sentence. Under the micro-mismanagement of the Board of Trustees majority — Rachelle Ottosen, Tim Plass and Tom Hanley — Eccles has been bullied, ignored, set on meaningless tasks, set on counterproductive tasks and consistently prohibited from doing what she was hired to do: her job.

As if her immediate bosses weren’t enough to persuade her to seek employment elsewhere, Eccles also faced dealing with a plague let loose by the 2024 Idaho Legislature. House Bill 710, which goes into effect July 1, allows children or their parents to file legal claims against school or public libraries if they obtain materials deemed harmful to minors.

Under HB 710, libraries will have 60 days to relocate these materials “to a section designated for adults only” or face statutory damages of $250 per incident, along with actual damages and other forms of relief. The new law might muzzle accusations of outright book banning but fails to address painfully obvious possibilities, such as what’s to prevent anyone from moving a book deemed harmful back into a children’s section so damages can be asserted?

Locally and statewide, the assault on public institutions — schools, hospitals, libraries — is being waged with sometimes devastating effect. Nowhere has this been more evident than the accreditation-threatening board majority at North Idaho College, but the CLN trio is giving them a run for their money.

Among CLN trustees’ most egregious mistakes is refusing to heed Eccles’ warnings about insurance coverage. Through their irresponsible, sometimes unfathomable statements and actions, trustees have jeopardized that coverage to the point that the issue presents an existential threat — one that looks increasingly plausible if Eccles successfully sues trustees for a litany of employment sins.

Just as Idaho is losing OB-GYN doctors at an alarming rate because of religiously overzealous, culture-war focused elected officials, so the state is facing a potential exodus of highly skilled, deeply devoted library staff and administrators. Without a majority of trustees who understand and adhere to their responsibilities, the Community Library Network’s future is bleak.

Saddest of all, its assailants will see that as a victory.