A Kansas town near Topeka will keep its public library for another year after political uproar over the inclusion of an LGBTQ book on the shelves.
Applause erupted as the St. Marys City Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday to renew the lease with the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library for another year. Absent from the vote was outgoing deputy mayor and incumbent state Rep. Francis Awerkamp, a Republican, who vowed last month that “I will fight that awakening ideology until the day I die.”
“We are grateful that the library is able to continue to serve the St. Marys community,” library officials wrote in a Facebook post. “We look forward to working hard in the New Year to bring the best possible library resources and services to our patrons. Come visit us soon. We’re here to help.”
While the lease renewal was the culmination of a months-long debate, the discussion is unlikely to end in the city of 2,700 known for its traditional Catholic sect.
St. Marys Deputy Mayor Regrets Lack of Donald Trump Books in Library
Gerard Kleinsmith, the city’s new deputy mayor, said he’s not convinced the library cares about the people of St. Marys because he didn’t see any books by former President Donald Trump on the library’s shelves, while he found six by Hillary. . Clinton.
“That’s just one example, but those are the things that worry me,” he said. “Do they really have the interests and desires of the people of Pottawattamie County right at the forefront when you can’t even read a book by a former president, who carried the county by a nearly four-to-one margin?”
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The debate arose from complaints about a book, “Melissa,” by Alex Gino, about a transgender boy. The book has since been withdrawn from the library.
But that didn’t appease the city commission, which tried to insert a “moral clause” into the library’s lease. The library refused, meaning it would lose its space at the end of the year if the lease was not renewed.
The clause would have directed librarians to remove books on socially divisive issues, including LGBTQ and race relations. The commissioners floated the idea of vacating the library, which serves several rural communities, and starting a new one that would conform to the new set of standards.
“The city doesn’t own the library, so we don’t make decisions about what happens in the library,” said Matthew Childs, the city’s new mayor. “But we own the building and we represent the citizens who are the main customers and funders of the library.”
ACLU Leader: Commission ‘Touched the Line of Authoritarian Censorship’
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, Micah Kubic, said the commission had “toed the line of authoritarian censorship.”
Childs acknowledged that the townspeople communicated at a November meeting that they wanted to keep their library.
“It was made very clear at that meeting that the citizens want the library to stay open,” he said. “Everyone agreed on that, so there’s really no question about it. The question is, how do we ensure the safety of the community and that the community gets what they want in the library? And that’s up to the community, and we are the representatives.”
Childs said the city has agreed to extend the lease for another year to keep the library open, and the library has agreed that community input is a good idea.
“As administrators trying to represent what the citizens want, I think we have achieved what we wanted to achieve here,” he said.
Kleinsmith said the book inspired him to further investigate the public library system. He objected to the library’s mostly appointed board having the ability to collect taxes, equating them to “taxes without representation.” He also doesn’t think St. Marys has enough representation on the board.
“I intend to look at many of these issues more deeply throughout this year and then see where we are,” he said, “see if we can change anything.”