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Library board sets new policy

Following several attempts by concerned citizens to remove sexually explicit books from the children’s sections of area libraries, the Marathon County library board has adopted a new policy placing the onus on parents to monitor what their kids are reading and checking out.

At a December 19 , 2022, meeting, following a discussion of its collection development policy, the library board of trustees voted to integrate the following language from the LaCrosse Public Library’s materials selection policy: “Parents and/or guardians of children under the age of 18 have primary responsibility over determining the appropriateness of any given material. Not all materials within the Library can be considered age-appropriate for all users. The Library will not be responsible for determining the appropriateness of any material a child with their own library card chooses to view or check out, and does not adapt selection based on potential access to all materials.”

In light of recent book challenges, board president Sharon Hunter thought this wording was “fantastic” in stressing the importance of parental involvement and said it would make a good addition to Marathon County’s collection policy.

Trustee Reid Raymone said the policy is consistent with other library policies regarding parental supervision of minors, and it also ensures the board is not violating anyone’s rights.

“We’d be best served by recognizing that we have heard concerns from parents, stating that they’re only attempting to protect children in this whole process,” Raymone said. “Protecting children is certainly imperative, and I think protecting parental rights and First Amendment rights of all patrons is also imperative.”

The board voted November 28 to keep two books in the children’s sections – “Making a Baby” and “You Be You! The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality and Family” – despite challenges from patrons who consider the books harmful to minors and against community standards. The board’s votes were based on recommendations by a review committee that found the texts to offer useful educational information appropriate for minors.

Trustees agreed at the November 28 meeting to review the library system’s collection development policy, which guides the library director’s selection of books and other materials. The three-page policy says the library system uses a “patron-driven” model that emphasizes lifelong learning, emerging technologies and “high-interest materials for all ages.”

The policy recognizes that the library system serves a diverse community that includes patrons of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

“As such, the library further recognizes that its patrons have diverse backgrounds, cultural heritages, interests, political views and social values,” the policy states. “The library seeks to build a collection to meet the needs of the members of this diverse community, and to that end will routinely gather statistics and community input to determine the characteristics, expectations and needs of these users.”

Under the policy, all patrons are free to request materials from the library, and those requests will be evaluated according to the “goals, principles and standards contained in this policy.” Highest priority will be given to “those materials most needed by our patrons,” the policy states.

The policy includes a list of 14 selection standards, which covers everything from “artistic or scholarly merit” and “appropriateness and relevancy” to availability and cost.

During public comment, two residents expressed opposition to banning books from the library.

Dan Line, Wausau, said he works in the medical profession and believes the board could do “quite a bit of harm” by removing sex education materials from the library. He also noted that, according to a county survey in the City Pages, people in the LGBTQ community experience much higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts than the rest of the population. (The books in question address issues of sexuality and gender identity).

“So, I just ask for some empathy and kindness,” he said.

Jenny Olson, Wausau, said people should feel free to read what they want, and she’s very concerned about a nationwide movement to restrict what libraries offer. She believes the library board was placed in an unfair position when it was asked to remove certain books.

“I don’t know any one of my friends, colleagues, neighbors that would really be in support of banning any books, whether it be fiction or nonfiction,” she said. “I don’t believe a book can ‘groom’ a child or a human, because books don’t do that, necessarily.”

Other business:

In an update to the board, library director Leah Giordano said the county health department reached out to her about distributing free COVID-19 tests at the libraries. She said she talked to the branch managers about providing the tests in a way that doesn’t involve sick people coming into the library, perhaps via drive-through or curb-side pickups.

“I think it might be a nice added value for the community, if they have them available right where they check out books,” she said.

Giordano also discussed a recent security breach of the library system’s website, which prompted library staff to look at alternatives for its website host (currently

“Our website may look simplified or different in the near future,” she said.

Marla Sepnafski, director of the Wisconsin Valley Library Service (WVLS), went over a final report detailing how WVLS has met the expectations set last year by the library board. The Wausau-based WVLS has been working on meeting the goals after the library board voted last year to recommend switching to the Madison-based South Central Library System (SCLS).

Sepnafski provided an overview of events, programming and support services offered by WVLS over the past year. The report says WVLS provided nearly $350,000 in “tangible benefits” in 2022, with Marathon County Public Library paying in $96,309.

“This year truly has been a pleasure, and we look forward to maintaining these strengthened partnerships in the future,” she said.

Board members talked about rescinding last year’s motion to leave WVLS and join SCLS, but no action was taken because it was not on the agenda.