Library finalizes revisions to policy on controversial materials

THREE RIVERS — Those who want to challenge material at the Three Rivers Public Library now have a revised form and policy to do so.

On Tuesday, the library’s Board of Trustees approved revisions to their policy on controversial materials, which would revise the process of how the library handles such challenges by library patrons, as well as changes to the opinion form that goes with it.

The revisions made allow staff to give any individual questioning certain materials at the library a copy of the library’s Materials Selection Policy, the Controversial Materials Policy, and the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement. Any patron that is still questioning material, under the policy, may state their opinion in writing on a Reconsideration of Materials form provided by the library, which would then be reviewed by the library board. The board would then make a recommendation to the library director, who will prepare a written reply to the individual questioning material.

“I think it’s a shift to making it more readable and more accessible to patrons who have the option to voice anything,” Board President Julie Keefer said. “The fact we have policies and procedures in place is affirming, to me, that we’re always being mindful of following guidelines that are in place for us as a library. I think this is a great step.”

Library Director Bobbi Schoon said the policy helps stress the importance that people understand what the process is with challenging materials.

“We care about people being heard, and if you have a concern, we’re open to that, but we’re also bound by the first amendment, which says that people have the freedom of speech and the other half of that is the freedom to hear that speech,” Schoon said.

Library Board Vice President Mike Fleckenstein also praised the changes to the new policy, calling it “very timely” that the library is considering the revisions, referencing different libraries around the country facing similar issues.

One of the changes made to the new Reconsideration of Materials form is the addition of a checkbox indicating if the person making the challenge is a cardholder at the library. The addition was made after extensive discussion and debate among board members, and was brought up originally by board member Desiree Horrocks, who wondered how the library handles those types of complaints from people who are not library cardholders, since the old form was titled the “Patron’s Opinion of the Library Materials.”

Schoon said while the ALA does not require being a cardholder to fill out a Reconsideration of Materials form, people are required to note if they are filling out the form on behalf of an organization.

“That will help you guys to know if this is a bigger push from an organization just trying to hit as many libraries as they can, or if it’s somebody local who knows our community and has a concern,” Schoon said.

While Schoon said she would be okay with putting a space on the form to fill out a card number, with trustee Vicki Wordelman agreeing that card information should be given, since the old form has a line on it for cardholder number.

“I’ve heard enough of what’s going on in this state that we need to be cautious, and I think that’s a way of being cautious,” Wordelman said. “We can always accept the form, but we need to know where they’re coming from too, because there’s a lot that’s going on.”

Others, including Fleckenstein, weren’t keen on having card information be a requirement.

“I think that’d be good information to have, but I don’t think the lack of a library card should take away somebody’s right to object,” Fleckenstein said.

Keefer also wondered if the library is allowed to ask if someone filling out the form is a cardholder. Schoon said that could potentially get into a legal “gray area” and would need to reach out to their lawyers to figure out if they could do it; even under the old form, she said, she wouldn’t have personally asked if they were a patron to be able to turn it in.

“Part of the first amendment right is the right to be heard,” Schoon said. “I would never tell someone they can’t be heard because they don’t have a library card. Even though the title of the old one said ‘patron,’ I would not have been like, ‘if you’re not a patron, you can’t tell me your opinion.’”

A compromise was then made by Fleckenstein in his motion to approve the changes to add a checkbox on the form indicating if they were a cardholder or not.

Near the end of discussion, Schoon said that in the five years she has been with the library, there have not been any opinion or reconsideration forms filled out, but there have been several conversations with library-goers about some material.

“Usually conversation is enough to be heard and for them to understand we trust our community to make decisions for themselves,” Schoon said. “When they understand our viewpoint, then a lot of the time that’s enough for them to understand we’re not acting in lieu of parents, as a lot of times the concern is for younger people.”

The revisions were approved unanimously by the board, 4-0. Secretary Linda Munro was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

In other business…

  • The board approved a motion to move forward with recommendations for a fund proposal/budget adjustment utilizing $187,139.27 in local stabilization funds. The expenditures currently laid out include $4,474 for payment of the parking lot sinkhole repair, $25,000 for a building maintenance reserve, $10,000 for a capital equipment reserve, $50,000 for a future expanse reserve/basement remodeling fund, $7,000 for additional funding for electronic purchases, $7,000 for additional funding for furniture purchases, and $3,000 for collection development. This leaves the library with $80,665.27 to go into their fund balance.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or

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