The Abilene Public Library’s collection development policy will be considered by the Abilene City Council on Thursday after a group of residents at an earlier meeting complained about the presence of LGBTQ literature in its children’s section .
Librarian Julee Hatton said what was planned was an outline of existing library policy, which is approved by her advisory board.
The council is appointed by the mayor of the city and approved by the council.
The most recent version of this policy was approved in 2016, Hatton said, and covers everything from how materials are selected and evaluated to procedures for “reviewing” materials.
Policies in place
Librarians use a number of criteria, including looking at what’s popular, awards given to particular works of literature, age appropriateness, what individual publishers have to offer, and more.
“They’re really focused on building a diverse collection to represent our community,” Hatton said.
The collection is regularly reviewed to ensure residents are using it, she said.
High-run items will remain in the collection and may need to be replaced, while there is a “weeding process” for low-run items, Hatton said.
City Manager Robert Hanna said council would likely meet in executive session before publicly discussing policy.
“From my perspective as a city manager, I think it’s really important for people to understand how books come into the collection and the process by which a citizen can remove a book if they find it objectionable,” a- he declared. “And so one of the things I hope to do is educate that component of the community.”
There are processes, Hanna and Hatton said, that can result in the removal of titles that individuals find objectionable.
“We want to educate people about what this process is,” Hanna said.
The right to delay
When asked if the topic was censorship, Hanna said the nation’s core values allow for differing opinions and that libraries “should be a place where you can go and get information.”
The age appropriateness of certain documents is what is at issue, he said.
“They are deemed age appropriate by a panel of library science experts,” he said. “Whether or not we share this as a community has to be a discussion that we have. … It’s a conversation about the place of the book.”
Hanna thinks there’s a “very slippery slope” you get into when you say a book can’t be in the library “because of the content it contains”.
“Who draws this line and how is it drawn?” he said.
Hanna said he imagined the board would want to understand “the legal context of this, what we can and cannot do as a public library.”
Former Abilene City Council candidates Charles Byrn and Sargent were among those who spoke at the meeting two weeks ago, asking to know who decided to put the volumes in question in the library.
“We are not going to leave until these questions are answered,” Byrn told the council in video footage from the previous meeting. “We are tired of our community being littered with this filth in our libraries.”
Some speakers said Abilene’s status as a majority Christian community meant that library policies had to be shaped by this philosophy.
Other residents said they did not want to ban the books outright, but questioned the age appropriateness and placement of some of the volumes.
Many of these claimed more totally opposed groups who did not share the values of the community used books to try to groom or convert children too young to fully understand them.
In other business, the council will also vote on whether to approve a contract with Bontke Brothers Construction on the Cedar Creek walking trail, approved in the 2015 bond election.
The project will cost around $2.4 million, with a good portion of those funds coming from bond allocations.
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for Abilene Reporter-News. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.