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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Residents speak out against creating book-rating system at Timberland Regional Library

By Rolf Boone Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

About a dozen people spoke out Wednesday against a potential book-rating system in the Timberland Regional Library system, raising concerns that such a system could lead to book banning and censorship.

The residents spoke to the library system’s board of trustees, but the library district – which serves a five-county area including Thurston, Lewis, Mason and Grays Harbor counties – also received 142 emails between July 19-26 from residents concerned about the same idea, said Executive Director Cheryl Heywood.

The public comment was triggered by the Lewis County Commission, which recently sent a letter to the county’s library board trustees “suggesting the library create new policies delineating age-appropriate books and other printed materials, including a rating system,” the Chronicle in Centralia reported on July 18.

The newspaper noted that “several weeks ago, (Lewis County Commissioner Sean) Swope made a Facebook post sharing concerns over a pamphlet in the Centralia and Chehalis Timberland Library branches.”

Labeled “resources for LGBTQ+ kids,” the pamphlet shared that all patrons, no matter their age, have the right to a private account at the library, according to the Chronicle.

Swope used the term “groomers” in his post, according to the paper.

Later, Swope raised the topic of a letter to the library board on creating policies around age-appropriate content and his fellow commissioners agreed, the newspaper reported.

However, no one agreed with the Lewis County Commission during public comment at the Wednesday library board meeting.

“If you see a book with content you don’t agree with, don’t read it, but please don’t tell me I can’t,” said Laura Hewett of Chehalis.

Gabi Clayton, of Olympia, called it dangerous.

“The suggested rating system is a form of censorship and a step on the path to book banning, and this is very dangerous,” she said.

Monique Farland of Centralia also fears a book-rating system could lead to book banning.

“We don’t want that,” she said. “This is Washington state, this is not Florida. It’s book banning and then burning books. It’s just one step away from that. That’s all I have to say.”

Executive Director Heywood made clear that the library district does not endorse such a system.

She said the district has multiple policies, operational procedures and collection guidelines to “ensure the freedom to read for all our patrons without prejudicial labeling,” adding that materials already are placed in age-appropriate areas of the library for early readers, kids, teens and adults.

“Timberland Regional Library promotes and defends the principle of intellectual freedom based on the First Amendment of the Constitution,” she said. “And as your library administration, we do not condone the prejudicial labeling of the collection. We believe that the ability to freely chose what to read is a cornerstone of democracy and a free society.”