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Tensions run high as Garfield County Libraries address requested book removals in board meeting

 Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Jamie LaRue addresses a crowd of people who came to speak at a board meeting in Carbondale on Sept. 7, 2023. In response to recent community backlash, LaRue asked patrons to be respectful of staff, and said libraries are for everyone.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Jamie LaRue addresses a crowd of people who came to speak at a board meeting in Carbondale on Sept. 7, 2023. In response to recent community backlash, LaRue asked patrons to be respectful of staff, and said libraries are for everyone.

The Garfield County Libraries Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday afternoon drew a crowd of around 60 people, packed into the Carbondale Branch’s community room. People showed up on both sides of a debate over whether books that depict sexual scenes in the adult section should be restricted or removed.

Rifle resident Trish O’Grady brought a petition to the board of trustees, asking that two Japanese manga graphic novels, including one that features LGBTQ+ characters, and other materials with age warnings be placed in locked cabinets, and that librarians must see ID to check them out.

“If these requirements are not met, then we request that all materials of the aforementioned warning be removed from the library inventory,” she said.

Her comments were met with a mix of applause and disapproval. The entire meeting was punctuated by outbursts from both supporters and opponents, both of whom were frustrated by the proceedings.

The two books, the first book in the Finder series and the first book in the Prison School series, are shelved in the adult section of the Silt Branch.

Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Jamie LaRue addressed O’Grady and the many other people who came to the meeting. He said everyone has the right to not like the materials they see at the library, and that frequently, there are things at the library that aren’t for everyone. He also said everyone has the right to complain if they dislike something.

But, LaRue said, some behavior crosses a line.

“A patron came into the Silt library, berated one of my staff, accosted a patron in a (LGBTQ) Pride t-shirt, then took some of these books being challenged, bent them to the pictures, and carefully placed them around the library, including the children’s area,” he said.

O’Grady stood up and took credit for those actions, and was met with a few scattered claps while other patrons told her to sit down.

After the short outburst from the crowd, LaRue continued his remarks.

“In fact, they did exactly what they falsely accused the library of doing, which is pushing adult content on children, and moving it from where it’s supposed to be shelved,” he said. “I just want to make it clear that everyone has the right not to be bullied or intimidated, or maliciously interfered with at the library.”

LaRue’s statement was met with applause.

Community members spoke both in favor of O’Grady’s petition and against it.

One speaker asked O’Grady and another individual to hold up cardboard signs with scans of images depicting sexual scenes from the books in question, and asked the crowd if they wanted their children to be looking at that content.

But others, like Paul Mascareñas, spoke in support of the work the county library district does in the community, and said he loves the library for its ability to connect people with their identities and the people around them.

“Unfortunately, there are those in the community with a lot of time on their hands to disrupt the work of those already doing a fabulous job, by the way,” he said. “Helping every patron that comes through their doors, or by volunteering to serve on the board.”

The Garfield County commissioners attended the meeting, unrelated to O’Grady’s petition, to discuss regular library business.

All three commissioners commended the Board of Trustees on the work they do.

“You are a diverse board,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “My hat’s off to you, you have some tough going… I do have a lot of respect for this board.”

O’Grady and other patrons asked the commissioners to do something about the books, but Chair John Martin informed the public that the county commissioners have no authority over what the library does or doesn’t keep on its shelves.

“It is a special district unto itself,” Martin said. “We get to review the budget, we don’t approve the budget.”

The Garfield County Public Library District is a special taxing district, meaning it’s funded by a mill levy approved by voters.

Martin also clarified that the county commissioner board appoints members to the library district board, but that’s the extent of their authority.

The library board capped public comment at 30 minutes, but LaRue suggested a separate community forum for people to further share their thoughts with the library. The commissioners agreed with that idea, and requested to attend, not to weigh in but to listen to community thoughts.

Caroline Llanes