It was a packed house on Tuesday when the Washington County Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss complaints surrounding a circulation policy laid out by the Washington Public Library.
The policy in question states the circulation records of any child over 10 years old may not be reviewed or released to the parent or guardian as protected under the Intellectual Freedom of Children Act. This caused a stir at the Jan. 15 meeting when Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. brought up an email complaint from a parent over the policy, then proceeded to threaten financial support for the library by saying to the director, “Just be aware that if you’ve got some policies that go against our beliefs, it could affect your funding.”
At the work session on Thursday, Feb. 7, Supervisor Stan Stoops explained the controversy revolved around the supervisors’ opinion that there was a problem with the age restriction on the policy being 10 years old.
“Following the meeting where it was talked about funding ... (there) was 100 percent disapproval of the library’s policy,” he said.
Stoops went on to say he would like to speak with library board members about the policy and was disappointed there was only one board member present. Supervisor Abe Miller agreed with Stoops, saying he understands the library is following the guidelines of state policy which is based off the fourth ammendment, but would like to see a change in the age limit.
Seward then read aloud three emails he received regarding the policy. Two were from parents with opposition to the policy, one calling it “morally wrong” and the other saying, “It is my firm belief that it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children on any subject, and any entity that would not have the wishes of the parent in mind is one that should not exist.”
The third email Seward read was sent the day after the Jan. 15 meeting, congratulating him on questioning the policy. The email explained the sender had taken issue with this policy in the past with Patrick Finney, the Washington Library director at the time. The email stated at that time Age of Reason was 14 years old and the sender was given the reasoning that the child was protected because of their intellectual freedom.
Seward followed the readings by addressing Washington Public Library Director Bryna Walker, Wellman-Scofield Public Library Director Carol Wilkins and Kalona Library Director Anne Skaden.
“I would like to say the issue is not a personal issue. So if it was taken personally, anything I said, I did not mean to do that. The issue is with the policy,” he clarified.
In reference to the emails, (Washington Public Library Director Bryna) Walker said she did not recall receiving the ones sent before the meeting but did acknowledge the one sent after. She said she told the sender they could come talk to her and challenge the policy, but they failed to do so.
She went on to explain that every month the library board reviews a policy within the handbook and because of its length, the circulation policy is up for review during the months of December, January and February. She said if supervisors would like to see a change regarding the policy, this would be the appropriate time to do so.
“I am open to what you’re saying and my board is open to listening to it,” she said. “I can’t guarantee you it’s going to happen, but we will objectively look at that.”
During the public comment section of the meeting, Washington Public Library Board of Trustees Vice President Rick Hofer explained that in order to change a policy a specific procedure must be completed. He said for parents who do not agree with that policy but would like to remain active users, the library offers the option of a family card.
The family card is controlled by the parent and any items checked out on the card are available for review by parent in charge of the card.
Washington resident Gwen Ying spoke up in favor of the policy, saying she felt the problem came down to parenting, not a policy. She explained she is a “surrogate grandmother” for a child whom she takes to the library often because the mother does not speak English.
She said the child once picked up a graphic novel and told Ying she felt it was too intense for her to read, which in turn made Ying proud of the parenting that child experienced because she felt that at her young age, she knew right from wrong.
“The parent better look inside and think not what is the library doing, because they’re doing a wonderful job and I don’t think that they should be restricted,” she said. “The parent should then think, ‘How am I preparing this child for life?’”
During the regular meeting, Supervisor Chair Bob Yoder restated that he could not see how age 10 was justified as being the appropriate age for a child to make their own choices as outlined in the current policy.
Walker explained age 10 has been decided by the courts as the Age of Reason, which is why the policy changed from age 14 to age 10.
Seward said he felt another issue was that parents felt left out of what was happening in their child’s lives because they were not granted access to their circulation records.
“It seems to be driven by a point of view and not a legal foundation,” he said, explaining he has read over several court rulings that City Administrator Brent Hinson sent in regarding Supreme Court action on library cases.
Seward went on to say the four cases cited were about suppression by a government entity but he felt the issue at hand was about the age over the circulation policy which was not mentioned in these cases.
“This is not properly what the issue here is,” he said. “I think the only things that we’re talking about here are concerned parents trying to be involved with their kids ... so far, we heard, anecdotally, that you’re not allowing that.”
Walker immediately denied the claim saying she has encouraged all parents who have a problem with the policy to come in and speak to her directly so she can add it to the agenda for the library board of trustees to discuss.
Seward then shared personal research with varying sources such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Wikipedia page on the court case Troxel v. Granville, which he said had law citations within the article, and a website called quickanddirtytips.com.
In an email, Seward explained the purpose of his research was for discussion only and not legal advice. The documents in reference brought up parents’ constitutional rights.
“That’s the only issue that we have here, is whether or not you’re going to make an allowance for a parent,” he said in regard to his presented research. “Twice we’ve had parents say ‘we’ve got a problem with this’ and it’s not being satisfactorily dealt with, apparently.”
Supervisor Richard Young agreed and said he felt “personally targeted” after receiving personal complaints about his words, explaining he has been accused of bullying and apologized for the alleged behavior.
“If my asking a question about the policy was bullying, is what I’ve been told, I’m sorry about that. I had never seen your policy and I don’t think that’s bullying to ask for a policy,” he said. “I had never seen your policy. I had no idea what it was, so I can’t really say I was bullying you when I had never seen your policy ... Nobody ever said you’re not going to get funded, we just want to know about that policy is because we’re getting parents complaining about it.”
In public comment, Hinson seemingly addressed both Seward and Young by saying, “We’re here at this time because there was an implicit, maybe not so implicit, threat to tie funding to change of a particular policy. That’s the definition of bullying in this arena.”
He followed his statements by encouraging the supervisors to leave the legal interpretation of the policy to the county attorney, saying, “That’s who you should rely on advice for. Not Wikipedia.”
Hinson reiterated the age had been changed from 14 to 10 because 10 years old was the age courts found as the Age of Reason, explaining how the policy has underlying tie to the case law.
Mayor Jaron Rosien also spoke during public comment and explained he felt the underlying issue was with parenting and not a library policy.
“I am completely on page with the ideology that it is parents that need to be in charge of parenting their children,” he said. “If parents are doing their job, this policy should not be an issue. Our libraries are not a threat. I believe they are a safe space for every family member and worthy of funding.”
He concluded by encouraging the supervisors to “consider spending the energy concerned about our children by encouraging and reminding parents about the importance of being directly involved in their kids’ lives, especially their literary ones.”
Washington City Council member Elaine Moore spoke up with positive affirmations about Walker as a person saying, “We are very luck to have her as our librarian in town.”
Ted Drain, a Washington resident, spoke up in favor of the policy, saying all comments the supervisors mentioned were negative but he felt there were positive feelings as well. He urged them not to change a policy strictly because of negative opinions when he felt the positive opinions had not been heard.
“This is very important to me because as a parent, you have to be an active parent. I can’t imagine that any kid of mine would have been able to check out a book that if I wanted to look in their book bag or look at their stack of books or look in their bedroom, I couldn’t do that.”
He went on to cite the family card as a way for those with ill feelings about the policy to still use the library but have control of the circulation list.
“This shouldn’t even be a problem. You shouldn’t even have to address it,” he said.
Jo Weidner, Family Services Librarian at the Washington Public Library, said that for as many parents who disagreed with the policy, there were many who agreed.
“To be inclusive we have got to be understanding of what they need and where they’re coming from and I think we do a wonderful job of reaching out to these kids when they’re walking in the door. Many without families who really don’t care and we do care,” she said. “We are doing our job taking care of kids in our community and I just hope you don’t let one policy change your decision on how you can help us continue to do what we do at the library.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Seward expressed interest in meeting with the Library Board Members individually and Miller reiterated his stance on the issue saying he would like to go through the proper channels to inflict a change in the age restriction on the policy.
Walker agreed and asked for the supervisors to share any further complaints or comments with her because she felt it seemed they were at odds but she wanted to continue to operate with the supervisors as a unified front.
“The one thing I think everybody needs to realize is nobody on this board is against the library; never has been. This age limit was the issue,” Yoder said at the end of the meeting. “Everybody is behind the library and we hope that library is there for years to come.”