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‘You do not have the right to ban books’: Meridian library officials respond to threats

By Mia Maldonado Idaho Statesman

Trustees and staff of the Meridian Library District met at a monthly board meeting Wednesday evening to discuss educational freedom and the role libraries play under the First Amendment.

Meridian Library District board chair Megan Larsen told the Idaho Statesman that concerns and attempts to restrict access to books have been heard “loud and clear.”

For months, the library board has faced opposition from the Idaho Liberty Dogs, a right-wing group that mobilized against COVID-19 health measures, abortion rights activists and the use of critical race theory – an academic practice that acknowledges the impact of systemic racism into modern day.

The Idaho Statesman reported in August that more than 100 locals attended a board meeting and accused the library of distributing “smut-filled pornography” to children. “Sex is a Funny Word” was one book included on a flyer shared by the Idaho Liberty Dogs that people claimed were examples of “graphic” and “disgusting” pornography.

The children’s comic book, which teaches kids about sexuality, features families of different gender identities and sexual orientations.

“The thing that they are asking for is not permissible,” Larsen said in an interview. “It’s a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Libraries are quintessentially the locus of free information.”

The Idaho Liberty Dogs announced on its Facebook page plans to invite “several very high-level elected officials” to Wednesday’s meeting to give feedback about “distributing sexually explicit materials to minors.” The group, however, did not attend the meeting due to “scheduling conflicts,” according to the Facebook post.

Meridian Library District officials respond to threats

The Meridian Library District board removed the public comment period from Wednesday’s agenda because of disruptions in previous meetings.

“At our last meeting in October, there was defamatory language, a threatening tone, very disruptive yelling and shouting and calling the staff names,” Larsen said. “I love my staff, and I am not going to subject them to that treatment.”

Larsen said she does not foresee allowing public comments in future meetings, but community members can still submit their concerns in writing for the board to discuss 24 hours prior to the meetings on their website.

Meridian Library District director Nick Grove said in an opening statement that he has never seen the level of vitriol and threats of violence targeting Idaho libraries until now. Wednesday’s meeting was the second time library officials asked police officers to attend meetings due to safety concerns, he said.

“You have the right to object to an item, and you have the right to recommend a reconsideration of an item that you don’t like,” he said. “You do not have the right to ban books or segregate access to books that you do not like.”

Grove said he does not intend on stepping down from his position, despite the continued harassment he has received, and believes individuals and families should make their own choices on what they rent from a library. Grove said parents worried about what their children check out should accompany their children to the library.

If children attend the library on their own, “or read something that you have told them not to … this is a violation of your personal family rules,” Grove said. “I would advise you to handle that as you would any other violation of your family rules.”

The library’s development collection policy, which outlines standards on how materials are selected, was not further discussed.

‘Loud voices’ a minority, consultant says

The meeting included an educational freedom training from library advocate and consultant Peter Bromberg. Bromberg in the meeting said the First Amendment protects the public’s rights to receive information, and that the library’s mission is to ensure equal access to a world of information, ideas and perspectives.

Bromberg discussed cases across the country in which school boards have tried banning books, containing “diverse content,” with topics focusing on the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities and communities of color.

The Nampa School District, for example, board voted to remove a list of nearly two dozen books from school libraries in May, the Statesman previously reported.

Bromberg cited the 2022 American Family Survey conducted by Salt Lake City-based Deseret News and Brigham Young University. It found that only 12% of Americans think books should be removed from libraries if a parent objects, and only 16% of Americans believe public school libraries include inappropriate books on their shelves.

“When we hear loud voices and people coming, showing up in meetings and asking for books to be removed, they’re in the minority,” he said.