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‘It’s not about the books’: Boundary County library director resigns over intimidation and ‘political atmosphere of extremism’

Aug. 18, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 18, 2022 at 9:47 p.m.

Pat McCalmant, left, and Brianna Wheeler browse through the stacks at the Boundary County Library in 2002.  (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Pat McCalmant, left, and Brianna Wheeler browse through the stacks at the Boundary County Library in 2002. (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

After a petition started last month to recall four Boundary County Library board members over a routine policy update, library director Kimber Glidden has announced her resignation effective Sept. 10.

“Nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community,” Glidden wrote in her announcement posted by the library.

A push by a few parents to ban books with LGBTQ themes started early this year and “has snowballed from there,” library board member Lee Colson said.

Widespread efforts to ban books and censor libraries are cropping up by groups across the Northwest and the nation, like an attempt to ban materials on gender studies from Mead School District’s libraries, another librarian quitting over armed intimidation in Coeur d’Alene and Idaho House Bill 666 introduced earlier this year, which could have held libraries liable for checking out materials that could be considered harmful to children.

In Boundary County, a local group is attempting to recall four of the five library board members, including Colson, after the board approved an updated Collection Development and Maintenance Policy. The new policy says, “Selection of materials will not be affected by any such potential disapproval, and the Boundary County Library will not place materials on ‘closed shelves’ or label items to protect the public from their content.”

Nancy Pearl, former executive director of The Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library, was not familiar with the case in Boundary County but said these kinds of protests demonstrate a lack of understanding about the function of public libraries, which should be places for everyone, with books on all sides of an issue.

“Libraries are the heart of the community and to see this happening is just heartbreaking,” she said. Pearl is an author, book critic and affectionately referred to as “America’s Librarian.”

“Certainly parents have the right to decide what their children can read,” she added, “but I don’t think a parent or anyone has the right to tell somebody else what they can or can’t read. And that’s what is happening with these protests.”

Much of the recent scare has been over widely circulated lists of books and other media among far-right-wing groups, but Boundary Library officials have repeatedly said that the library does not contain any of the books people have raised concerns to them about.

“So really what they are trying to do is limit our ability to select books to be in our collection,” Colson said.

However, if someone requests a book not in the library’s catalogue, the library will continue to order the book through the normal interlibrary loan process. And if enough people request that book, they will add it to the collection.

“That’s just what libraries do,” Colson said. “We get books that people are interested in reading.”

Glidden, who joined the library late last year, worked with the previous library director to revise the contested policy, which had not been updated in years.

The group called Boundary County Library Board Recall, whose stated mission “is to protect children from explicit materials and grooming,” has singled out Glidden in addition to the board members for her decision to rejoin the American Library Association in May.

The recall group opposes the association because it advocates similar policies to protect against efforts to systematically exclude any kind of subject matter. The group did not respond to a request for an interview.

“It wasn’t a final straw so much as a constant barrage of the same rhetoric and people not listening to my answers,” Glidden said of what caused her to finally resign. “They don’t want to hear the truth.”

She has been hounded with Freedom of Information Act requests, a tactic to harass public officials, she said. The FOIAs, “some quite outlandish,” are taking up so much time that it is difficult to run the library.

The threats against her have been veiled, but their message is clear, she said. During comments in public meetings, she has been warned with fire-and-brimstone language of her imminent damnation, coming from certain Christian fundamentalists groups who are known to believe they have a call to violence, she said.

Some people have stood quietly, armed with arms crossed, in the back of board meetings. “That doesn’t make anybody feel safe,” she said. Others have signed up to become library volunteers but show up armed and “just want to have that show of force in the library.”

Glidden plans to move away if the political climate does not change. She chose not to resign immediately because she is helping to finalize the annual budget, due early next month. “If I left now that could jeopardize whether the library district gets funded,” she said.

Colson said the new collections policy lays out clear procedures (which the old policy did not have) for library patrons to request or appeal the addition of a book, which can be brought to the trustee board for consideration.

“The difference between what’s happening here and the rest of the country is that our library does not have the titles that people are wanting to ban,” Glidden reiterated. She said this is a dangerous first, because they are not hiding behind a veneer that it is about banning particular books.

It is really about control.

“Boundary County is a warning,” she said. “It’s not about the books.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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