Prior to the Meridan Library District budget hearing, dozens of people came forward during the public comment portion to share stances on dissolving the library district and book banning.
However, the was not an item on the agenda. The public comment period spanned a little over two hours on Wednesday evening. The lengthy meeting was prompted by efforts by a social media group called Idaho Liberty Dogs, and others, to remove materials members said they found objectionable. A post from Meridian City Council Member Liz Strader got wide attention, telling followers, “extremists… literally want to dissolve the library district.”
At the start of the meeting, a board member noted that they had received 50 written comments. 49 were supportive of the library’s catalog, and one person was concerned.
The Board of Trustees chair Megan Larsen talked to the room about how the process to dissolve a library district would look. First, a person would need to create a petition and get over 50 qualifying signatures of electors in the district, then it would be submitted to the Ada County Board of Commissioners. They would then schedule a public hearing within a few weeks of receiving the petition. After the hearing, the commission would have ten days to make an order regarding the petition, and eventually, an election would be held, and it would be up to the people to decide whether the district stays or goes.
“If the Ada County Commissioners determined the dissolving of the library district of Idaho’s second largest city is somehow in keeping with the state’s public policy in regard to the libraries, then an election is held, and voters will vote yes dissolve the district or no not dissolve the district,” Larsen said. “If a majority of voters vote yes to dissolve the district than all of the district’s assets, such as buildings, books, and equipment, would be turned over to the county commissioners for disposition.”
This did not stop people from showing up and sharing their thoughts on book banning and dissolving the district. One side came together asking to keep the library diverse, the other believed that certain books should not be available to children.
Keeping the status quo
Garret Castle, an Idaho resident, shared his personal experience of being bullied as a child and how the library helped him understand what was happening and why it was happening.
“Essentially, the story was that a lot of people wanted to call me gay, and I wasn’t, and I got to feel what that was like. I didn’t know (at) 12 years old on how to combat the views of this kind of anger,” Castle said. “I think the thing we should remember today is that what we reflect in ourselves is what our children become. If we are angry and hateful, then our children take that on, and they will treat the people next to them that way. That’s not what I want with my kids. And so I hope that we always support a diverse inclusion here.”
There were more than 40 people who showed up to testify to support keeping a diverse library. Rebbeca Gomez was one of them.
“As a parent, I want my children to have access to diverse books, and I believe it is my responsibility to monitor what my children are reading, not the librarians and not the government’s restricting access to certain books is counterintuitive to the American ideals of liberty,” Gomez said. “We should be free within our society from oppressive restriction and posts on our way of life, behavior, or political views. That is the very definition of liberty. This group that is working to restrict what others can borrow is making a mockery of that word. I ask that our fellow Meridian citizens join me in supporting the library and ask the other groups leave the library alone.”
Restricting or removing certain books
On the other side were people who believed that the library was placing pornographic books in the children’s section and requested that those be removed. Many of whom identified themselves as a member of Concerned Citizens of Meridian. Around 13 people voiced concerns about books in the library. One book referenced multiple times was Gender Queer, a graphic novel that explores gender identity and sexuality.
“We are not asking to ban any books, nor are we asking to dissolve the library, which is a rumor started by certain council-level individuals on social media. We’re simply asking the library staff and the board of trustees to work with us to alleviate this problem and create a truly safe space for our children,” Mike Hon said. Hon ran for a seat on Meridian City Council and later for Idaho Legislature.
After the publication of this story, Strader refuted Hon’s comment that defunding the library was a “rumor” and pointed to a screenshot of a Facebook post from Phil Reynolds, who she said helped organize folks against the library.
“We had a face-to-face meeting on May 26 (with library board members)… We presented our concerns to this panel and found them to be quite unreceptive to our requests for cooperation,” Hon said. “We suggested a number of other ideas for restricting this content to people of appropriate age, including checking for ID before checkout and even simply relocating the books into an area clearly marked for adults. However, the panel would have none of it. They cited concerns about censorship and First Amendment violations. Even though as already stipulated, we support the right of people to write whatever they like to publish it, share it whenever they want to.”
Another woman who wanted to see some of these books become less accessible to children asked rhetorically how children who can’t buy a car can make decisions about sex.
“I agree with the comments about people being responsible parents and keeping track of what their kids are reading, but could you put the books in the adult section and let the adults make the decision to take them to their children and educate their children as they would like that’s what I would like to see. And I think it’s a compromise. I’m not asking you to ban books. I’m not saying that you’re horrible because you put the books on the shelves,” Mary Bowers said. “Kids cannot make the decisions that adults make. That’s why they don’t buy cars. They don’t buy houses. How can they make decisions about adult sex? Not saying that sex is wrong, sex is good and normal, but it doesn’t belong on the shelf where a five-year-old can grab the book and look at these pictures. It’s just not acceptable.”
Larsen noted that if a meeting to dissolve the library would ever be scheduled, proper notice would be posted on social media and on the website.