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Book restriction debate at the heart of Community Library Network Board of Trustees elections in North Idaho

Clockwise from upper left, Community Library Network trustee candidates are Tim Plass, Judy Meyer, Regina McCrea and Tom Hanley. The CLN provides library services to Kootenai County areas outside of Coeur d’Alene and to parts of Shoshone County.  (handout photos)

Voters have two clear sets of options in the upcoming Community Library Network Board of Trustees election.

Incumbents Judy Meyer and Regina McCrae say the library district is on the right course and that library board members shouldn’t be in the business of restricting access to books. Parents should decide what their kids can check out, they say, and librarians should decide what belongs on the shelves.

“The library cannot censor viewpoints or discriminate against people of any classification,” McCrea said.

Challengers Tim Plass and Tom Hanley say library board members need to do more to keep sexually explicit books out of the hands of kids.

“I’m running because I care about my grandchildren and all the other children in the county and I see there’s totally inappropriate materials in the library,” Plass said. “I’m not going to let little Johnnies wandering around the library look at them.”

Kootenai and Shoshone county voters on May 16 will elect two representatives for the Community Library Network Board of Trustees. The Community Library Network provides library services to all of Kootenai County, with the exception of Coeur d’Alene, as well as parts of Shoshone County. Trustees serve six-year terms.

Library board races, once among the most low-key political campaigns, have become hotly contested and politicized in recent years. They’ve entered the limelight due to debates about whether libraries should ban or remove particular books. In many cases, some people have argued libraries shouldn’t carry books aimed at kids or teens that discuss LGBTQ issues or gender identity.

Meyer, who has served on the library board for more than 30 years, said she believes the board has come up with a solution that addresses community concerns about age-appropriate content.

The board recently created a new policy that gives parents the ability to decide which categories of books their kids can check out. The library district has three tiers of library cards: One for kids under 12, one for kids aged 12-15 and one for everyone else.

“We think it’s reasonable. It’s always a balancing act,” Meyer said. “I do not know of any books that the resounding majority of the public says we don’t want.”

The Community Library Network hasn’t removed any books in recent years, Meyer said. She said the district is reviewing some books and may relocate them to different library sections.

Meyer said she believes libraries should be apolitical. Library boards shouldn’t be trying to legislate morality, she said.

“It’s not for me to decide, ‘No, the book about Hitler shouldn’t be in the library,’ ” Meyer said. “Nobody’s agenda should be in our library.”

McCrea, an attorney who became a library trustee in 2016, agrees the new library card rules adequately address community concerns.

“My personal opinions should not play a role in my duties as a trustee,” McCrae said. “You should not know what my personal opinions are or my religious beliefs. It does not matter. The library is there to serve everyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof.”

Meyer and McCrea also stressed that they’d focus on hiring a new library director if re-elected.

“My job is to be sure and choose a good director,” Meyer said. “It’s their job to then line up qualified staff and educate the staff to listen to all sides of the public.”

Hanley and Plass, both of whom have the endorsement of the Kootenai County GOP, say they’d make significant changes to the library district if elected. The Kootenai County GOP did not respond to a request for comment.

Plass, who worked as an electrical engineer before retiring, said he doesn’t believe the new library card policy goes far enough.

He said his campaign platform is “remove, restore and restrain.”

Plass said he wants to physically change the location of books so kids can’t get to them. He said he wants to place any book that contains any descriptions of sex, rape or pedophilia “behind the counter.”

“I’m going to put them behind the counter, and an adult with an over-18 card can ask to check it out,” Plass said. “Maybe it’s not the same as Playboy or some of these other magazines that used to be around when I was younger, but it’s pornographic.”

Plass said he would want to prevent kids from accessing any books that include explicit content, regardless of type. He said he would want to restrict access to books if he believes keeping them in the library violates Idaho law.

“If there is such a thing as a LGBT book that is wholesome and doesn’t talk about any of this, I’ll leave it alone,” he said.

In response to a Kootenai County GOP survey, Plass said he believes the library board should follow guidance from the Bible when making decisions. He noted that he supports the death penalty and opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest.

“Every child deserves a chance to be born regardless of how rotten their father was,” Plass wrote.

Plass wrote he hopes to clear out “immoral books and materials that promote vice.”

“Kootenai County libraries can simply follow the unchanging morality established by the Ten Commandments that has been our basis of morality since the USA was founded,” Plass wrote. “If some families want a different morality basis, they can go over to libraries in Washington.”

Plass said he couldn’t provide examples of specific books he wants to restrict access to and declined to share his opinions on individual books. He also said he hasn’t read any of the books that he objects to.

“I’ve looked at the passages that were pointed out and that’s enough for me,” he said.

Both Plass and Hanley said they’d like to review books on a list created by CleanBooks4Kids.

In addition to saying he wants to restrict access to certain books, Plass said he wants to return those that have been removed.

“I want to bring back traditional, classic, family books that are good for children,” Plass said.

He used “Huckleberry Finn” and “Little House on the Prairie” as examples.

Both of those books already are in circulation within the Community Library Network, according to the network’s online catalog.

Hanley, who did not agree to an interview but provided emailed responses, said the current Community Library Network board has failed to take action on the “demonic” issue of sexually explicit material.

He also told the GOP that his faith would guide his decision making.

“I am a God-believing Christian; a Catholic, in particular,” Hanley wrote. “I will not abandon my personal beliefs and faith in the execution of any CLN trustee duties. This is a non-negotiable tenet upon which I will execute my office. I believe in historically traditional family values.”

Hanley added that he was motivated to run for the library board in part by a quote he recently read attributed to Pope Leo XIII: “Christians are born for combat.”

Hanley and Plass said they’d also focus on fiscal responsibility. Plass said he wants to freeze the library district’s budget and ensure the district’s tax revenues stay flat in the coming years.

McCrae said she fears that if Hanley and Plass are elected, they’ll establish policies that get the library district sued.

Plass acknowledged that’s a possibility.

“There’s probably going to be a legal case brought,” he said, “and we’re going to make headlines in the nation.”