Future of Kansas town’s library in jeopardy over refusal to remove ‘divisive’ books

ST. MARS — The Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library is decked out for the holidays, with a snow-filled miniature Christmas village amid the book collections. There is a statue of a princess with a unicorn horn on one wall and a statue of a dinosaur near the children’s corner.

All of this could come to an end in January.

The City Council is debating whether to extend the library’s lease with the city after it refused to accept a lease that would have asked the library to remove all materials that could be socially, racially or sexually divisive, including all LGBTQ content.

The library has been located in St. Marys since the 1980s, operating under an annual lease with the city. The library serves eight locations, including Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Allsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, and county residents fund the library through taxes.

The St. Mary’s branch acts as headquarters, with a designated “junior librarian” delivering books from the library to all eight other locations and visiting them weekly.

If the lease ends at the end of December if not renewed, the library will have to pack up hundreds of books and equipment and move to another city because St. Marys has nowhere else to accommodate them. library service.

St. Marys resident Hannah Stockman, a stay-at-home mother of 13, said the move is painful for her and others like her.

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“AAt this point, it’s the only place we have left for the public,” Stockman said. “We don’t have a pool or other amenities through the community center. So people come here for different reasons.”

According to Stockman, the library is one of the few places her whole family can go together. Her children loved to read and enjoyed several library programs as they were given coloring pages and other items. Stockman loves to read and uses library materials to design an educational program for himself.

“Some of them are learning to read and some of them don’t really want to read, but they come here and they’re excited. I can’t provide them any other way,” Stockman said. “It just feels good to be here.”

Discussions about the library’s removal began this summer after a local parent, upset over the content of Melissa, a book about a transgender child by Alex Gino, wanted it removed from the library. The book was previously published under the name “George”.

Library Director Judith Kremer said the book was added to the library after making the 2017-2018 William Allen White Award Mastery List for grades 3-5 and has only been checked out four times.

Kremer said parents have the ability to filter which books their children check out and can talk to staff about limiting children’s access to certain books. He emphasized that he and his staff are not trying to fight the council and are not interested in divisive issues. She has been working in the library for almost 20 years and only wants to serve the community.

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“We’re just doing what public libraries do,” Kremer said. “We don’t really value information, we are a representation of the world and things in the world. We have published and peer-reviewed and fact-checked information. So it’s a safe place for people to go to access information. It’s not like we’re spreading it or promoting it in any way. Right there.”

Kremer asked parents to fill out a standard form for objectionable material, but the form wasn’t returned until late August after a city council meeting in which council members asked that LGBTQ books be removed from the library along with any other books. dealing with racial issues or sexual issues.

During the August council, St. Marys City Commissioner Matthew Childs asked the August City Commission to add a “morality clause” to the library’s lease.

This clause stipulates that the library “will not be compelled to deliver, distribute, lend, praise or accept or endorse material or events (such as drag queen talk hours) that are explicitly sexual or racially or socially divisive.” LGBTQ+ or Critical Theory Ideology or Practice”.

“There was a lot of debate about the language used in that lease. It was actually inconsistent with the rule of law and problematic in many ways,” Kremer said.

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Kremer said he has discussed the provision of the clause with regional library consultants and has spoken with lawyers. He thought the issue had been resolved after speaking with council members.

Instead, commissioners began discussing creating their own city library without “allocation materials” at a council meeting earlier this month.

The lease extension will be discussed at Tuesday’s commission meeting, after which a decision will be made.

Stockman is reaching out to every group she can think of to rally support for the library, talking to other libraries in the state, as well as PFLAG and Loud Light, a non-profit organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community. She said many people in the community are afraid to voice their support for the library because St. Mary’s has a large religious presence, so she is looking for outside sources of support.

One petition started by Gerry Marstall has more than 1,000 signatures in support of the library. Marstall listed all the services the library offers, including free reading programs, free summer lunches and free Wi-Fi.

“If the library is forced to close or move to another city, it would be disastrous for all citizens of the St. Marys area,” Marstall said in the petition description.


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