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Commissioners Vote to Grow Library Advisory Board and Expand Its Oversight Responsibilities

BRADENTON – A proposal by Manatee County’s District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard was scaled back on Tuesday much to the relief of many concerned citizens and advocates of the county’s public libraries. The commissioner had initially brought forward a motion for the board to support the creation of a secondary library advisory board that would focus on screening and labeling books within the county library collections.

The county’s currently established library advisory board is composed of five citizens who work to review and make recommendations to county commissioners concerning library policy.

During a work session in February, Ballard raised her concerns about the diversity of content available in local public libraries. She and other commissioners also expressed concern that not enough was being done to keep children in the community safe from "inappropriate" reading materials that may be available in the libraries.

"I think we just need better guidelines, more appropriateness in picking out books, and so forth. And if we should be pushing anything in our libraries, it should be the Constitution," Tampa Bay’s WFLA reportedCommissioner Vanessa Baugh having stated during the Feb. work session.

During the same work session, Commissioner James Satcher suggested the board should end the county library’s affiliation with the American Library Association (ALA). Satcher called the organization, "woke."

On Tuesday, numerous residents and advocates pushed back on the idea that the county government needed to expand its oversight of libraries. In addition to members of the public who appeared in person during Tuesday’s meeting, many others submitted written public comments in opposition to Ballard’s proposal in advance of the meeting. More than 60 pages of public comments were attached to Tuesday’s agenda item, 99 percent were in opposition to the creation of an additional advisory board.

Many citizens who addressed commissioners in person on Tuesday were concerned, based on commissioner discussion from the Feb. work session, that an additional advisory board was one step closer to the commissioners censoring public library reading materials, and ultimately infringing upon citizens’ 1st Amendment Rights.

There were only a few citizens who spoke in support of the proposal. Those citizens’ comments were largely focused on what they called, "inappropriate" and "pornographic" books they identified in public school libraries–and encouraged commissioners to take action to assure such materials were not also accessible to children in the county’s public library system.

Ballard insisted that the suggestion of a second advisory board was not intended in order to "ban books," but only to ensure that books available in the library were labeled according to their content and placed appropriately within the library. Ballard explained her goal was to keep children safe because not all parents are aware of what sort of subject matter a book might contain, or the types of books their children are accessing in the library.

Commissioner George Kruse disagreed with the need for a second advisory board and called the idea of creating one, "redundant."

"I like smaller government," Kruse said during the discussion on Tuesday, "I think that government is terrible at overseeing my life. To be finding a way to expand government in order to more tell me what to do with my life seems to be counterintuitive to everything I campaigned on."

Commissioner Mike Rahn appeared to partially agree with Kruse’s comments, adding that creating an advisory board and its structure was not a simple task. Rahn suggested expanding the existing library advisory board to add more responsibilities might make more sense. Despite his position that a secondary advisory board might not be the best approach, Rahn also stated that it was his opinion that "Some books just should not exist."

After public comments had concluded, and taking into consideration some of her colleagues' suggestions, Ballard revised her motion to instead seek support for adding additional members to the existing advisory board and expanding the responsibilities of the board to include oversight of public library collections.

Advisory board positions are appointments made by county commissioners and the criteria of the citizen members and the responsibilities of the boards are outlined by county ordinance adopted by the board. Tuesday’s vote was unanimous to direct the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance that will outline the addition of citizen members to the BOCC library advisory board and include details of the members’ expanded responsibilities. The drafted ordinance will return to the board during a public hearing for adoption.

Click the video below to replay the discussion and public comments from Tuesday's meeting relating to the library advisory board agenda item.


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