The Keene Memorial Library Advisory Board approved on Monday night moving ahead with a proposal to develop three types of user library cards, a plan which if put into place in the future would allow parents to control what their children check out from the city library.
In a 5-0 vote, the advisory board instructed Library Director Laura England-Biggs to continue to research, develop and fine tune the proposal to have three types of patron library cards: one for juveniles, children up to 12 years old; a second "young adult" card for patrons age 13 to 18; and then an adult card for library users age 19 and older.
In a staff report provided with the board’s agenda packet, England-Biggs described the differences between the various proposed patron library cards as well as listed 15 questions and concerns that dealt with specifics of the plan.
Under the proposal, parents would be able to “opt-in” their children for the juvenile or young adult library cards. Under the juvenile card restrictions, children age 12 and younger would be barred from checking out young adult fiction content, young adult graphic novels, young adult "playaways" and launchpads and any and all “adult materials,” which includes print items, DVDs, Books on CD and ‘playaways.’
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For the young adult proposal, teens age 13 to 18 would not be allowed to access any and all “adult materials.” Adults library patrons would be classified as any person age 19 or older, and they would have access to all books and materials with no restrictions.
The proposed changes to the patron use cards does not include limits on any e-books or downloadable books in the database of the library’s “Libby” app or the State of Nebraska content database, called “Overdrive.”
England-Biggs told the board that as she and the library’s staff — notably the professional librarian trio employed by the city — tried to navigate the recent controversy over allegedly inappropriate books, they have received feedback from the public on possible solutions. One was the different patron cards for different ages.
“My knee-jerk reaction was, ‘no way, we can’t do that.’ Then I started looking at it and thinking about it, and came up with this plan … this proposal. Should the board direct us down this path, it can be done,” England-Biggs explained.
“We can allow parents to ‘opt-in’ and it will not be an across the board decision by the library. It would be a simple form saying, ‘this is my child; this is me; these are the collections I want.’ They could choose a juvenile card only, or a juvenile and (young adult) card,” she added. “It would be restricted to parents and guardians, not grandparents. All adult DVDs would be off the table. All the adult material would be off the table.”
England-Biggs said while the proposal does not include the “Libby” app or the state’s database, “Overdrive,” she and other library staff would work hard to help educate parents on how to install controls onto those online access apps so some content could be limited.
“It will not be overnight, but it is something that is achievable,” England-Biggs added about the plan.
The advisory board approved moving forward with the proposal in a unanimous vote.
Library board President Linda McClain expressed her thoughts on the proposal.
“Is it going to fix everything?” McClain asked. “No. But I think this is a step in the right direction.”
Library Board Member Ryan Fiala said the proposal for the different patron cards, “still gives the parent the ability to control what (a child) is reading,” in offering his support of the plan.
Local parent and book activist Scott Preston — who has repeatedly spoken about what he feels are inappropriate books in the library at numerous city council meetings — said he supported the differing age-based patron card proposal.
“I do support this idea,” Preston said.
The issue of restricting access to some content and books at the city library has been part of the wider debate over allegedly sexually explicit books and controversial LGBTQ-themed books raging in the city since late December.
Two parental rights activists at the center of the book debate — Sandra Murray and her daughter, Kelley Garay — spoke during meeting, expressing their repeated claims that sexually explicit and inappropriate books were in their opinion available to children in the Keene library.
Garay also said her only goal as a mother of two children was to protect her kids from inappropriate content. The mother-daughter duo have repeatedly spoken at city council meetings about books they believe are inappropriate, and the pair has also formally requested several books be removed from the library. Those efforts have been unsuccessful.
On Monday, Murray complained for second time in four weeks about a new book ordered by the library staff, “Rainbow Parenting: A Guide to Raising Your (zero) to 10-year-old Queer.” Murray spoke during the June 27 meeting of the Fremont City Council about the book, stating it was on order and was in her opinion, not appropriate for the library’s shelves.
“The library has proven to us there truly is a war on parents for their children’s minds,” Murray said while reading from a prepared statement. “(The author) is a woke extremist who uses her new book to blatantly instruct educators to bring queer and gender-affirming lessons into the classroom without parental knowledge. The book is full of woke propaganda. Does this book bring literary value to the community?”
Murray then asked why the library staff continues to purchase LGBTQ-themed and what she believes are inappropriate books for children.
“These actions of the library staff have been a slap in the face to the parents of Fremont who care about their children’s innocence,” Murray added. “The library has spoken as if they are going to change the selection policies to maintain a more balanced collection. Upon review, I can see that the new policies do nothing of the sort.”
England-Biggs contradicted the allegation from Murray that the staff has bought only certain types of books, telling the board and attendees that two books considered to be “anti-transgender” in topic had been ordered to give patrons opposing viewpoints on the issue.
McClain said the recent months-long debate over what books and materials are allowed in the city library as well as appropriate for children has been a challenge for both England-Biggs and the staff at the library.
That stress, she added, has also impacted the library advisory board — who are all volunteers — and had led to difficult months as numerous community members have complained about certain sexual education and LGBTQ-themed books and materials since late December.
McClain stressed that neither the library nor the library advisory board had ever received any complaints from parents alleging that “grooming” of children was occurring at Keene Memorial Library.
In response to claims from Murray and others in the community that, “the idea that our staff is grooming children or sexualizing children,” McClain said it is not happening in any manner.
“I stand by our staff. Our staff is not grooming children. They are not actively grooming,” McClain said.
The Keene Memorial Library Advisory Board meets once a month. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 21.