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Update on the Library Board Meeting
Six out of Seven Board Members Refused to Discuss Moving Porn
I attended the HEPL Emergency Board meeting on Friday. Dozens of community members spoke, and people disagreed about what should be done.
I’d like to begin, however, by stressing how much everyone generally seemed to agree. For example:
Both sides agreed that no books should be removed from the library.
Both sides agreed that no books should be banned, burned, or destroyed.
Both sides agreed that a wide variety of diverse materials should be in the library, including sexual education materials.
Both sides agreed that parents are ultimately responsible to oversee what media their kids are consuming.
Both sides were encouraged to see so many people participating in the process.
The main point of disagreement was just this:
Should there be pornography in the section of the library that is designated for kids as young as eleven years old?
I say this was a point of disagreement, but to be honest it’s sort of hard to believe it. I’m frankly not sure that the folks on the other side had actually looked at the books under discussion or understood why they were there to oppose us. Here’s a tweet that represents what some of these people may have been thinking:
I think that some who came to the meeting with this mindset were probably thrown off a bit when they realized we were not asking to ban, remove, or censor anything, and that our reasons for wanting to move the books had nothing to do with identity politics.
Some on our side even pointed out that, if these books were moved to the adult section of the library, they would continue to be available to children, since the library allows children to access the adult section. So we aren’t for censorship; we just want the library to stop promoting these materials to kids.
Because I was able to speak first and emphasize that we were not interested in removing or banning any books, it seemed to me that some speakers began to show signs of discomfort with their own prepared speeches, many of which flatly called us censors. For example, before her speech, one woman noted with apparent exasperation that the agenda for the meeting said the Board was going to consider removing the books in question from the library. She went ahead and read her speech, which called us censors anyway. But I think that she had gotten the point: our side just isn’t calling for censorship.
That exasperation is interesting. Why was she exasperated when she realized that we weren’t as bad as she thought? Why did she go on to accuse us of censorship given that she clearly recognized that she had been misled, to at least some degree, by the meeting agenda? The answer, I suppose, is that she had written a speech, and she was there to fight bad guys, and gosh darn it, she was going to speak out against the censors whether or not there were actually any present.
This is sad. Political polarization is ruining our country. Given this, I think it would be best to feel pleased and encouraged if it turns out that there is common ground, instead of feeling exasperated because we need an enemy to fight.
HSE School Board Member Janet Pritchett provides another example of how political polarization can lead people to strange places. No doubt she too was feeling the tension of calling us censors when we were explicitly affirming and re-affirming that we did not want to ban or remove anything. Her need to call us “censors”—a need driven, I think, by polarization—led her to claim that our proposal to simply move the books, where by HEPL policy they would continue to be available to every single member of the public, including children, was itself an act of censorship.
This is just not how we use the word ‘censorship’ in the English language. Here’s a dictionary definition of ‘censorship’:
The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.
We were not calling for prohibition of the books in question. So, according to this definition, moving the books would be censorship only if doing so constituted suppression of the books. But, as I said above, the books will continue to be available to everyone, including children, if they are placed in the adult section. Suppression, on any reasonable understanding, involves at the very least some kind of restraint. Since we are not asking for such restraint, Ms. Pritchett’s position is just not tenable, and I think if she could shake the polarization, and the need for a bad guy, maybe she could see that.
I confess that I myself am not immune to negative effects of polarization. In my anger, I called for HEPL Director Edra Waterman to be fired. But, after I heard one father’s remarks at the meeting, I realized that, if I could go back, I would simply ask that she be held accountable. I still do not know how to do that without firing her. But maybe I’m overlooking something, and I’m willing to listen.
In any case, I do stand by my call to hold Ms. Waterman accountable for this mess. Some have claimed that in advocating that someone be held accountable, I am thereby advocating censorship. But this is confused. I am not asking that Ms. Waterman be held accountable due to her selection of materials for the library, or even to influence the holdings of the library, their future acquisitions, or the accessibility of any library materials. Rather, I am asking that she be held accountable for her incompetence in judging what is age-appropriate for eleven-year-olds, and her refusal to stop promoting porn to children. This is obviously not a request for censorship.
Board Actions (and Inactions!)
After the public finished their comments, a lawyer advising HEPL, Anne Poindexter, gave a careful analysis of the legal situation. According to Ms. Poindexter, HEPL has the legal right to move the books as requested, in part because the books contain inappropriate internet guidance and graphic content.
After Ms. Poindexter spoke, Board Member Laura Alerding made a motion to move the books to the the adult section. None of the other Board members seconded her motion, so the matter received no discussion or vote from the Board.
Board member Bill Crandall subsequently introduced a motion to have Edra Waterman re-examine the book Let’s Talk About It by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. That motion was seconded, and, during discussion, Board Member Craig Siebe stated that he thought it was not the Board’s role to make judgments about individual books.
I can understand why Mr. Siebe said that this is not the role of the Board—that’s not an unreasonable point. However, I will note that another possible motion was to set a policy—an action that is squarely within the Board’s authority—which simply states that there should be no pornography shelved in the youth sections of the library.
The Board finally passed Mr. Crandall’s motion, so Ms. Waterman will re-review one of the two books.
They also authorized her to develop a plan—one that Ms. Waterman says would cost money for extra staff—for a “tween section” of the library. This project would allow HEPL to point to a few shelves in the Teen Zone, which is apparently what the new “tween section” would be, and claim that since the porn isn’t on those shelves, HEPL is only promoting porn to thirteen-year-olds, not eleven-year-olds. How ridiculous.
What Can We Do?
What should happen at this point? Various bodies in the local government are responsible for appointing Library Board members: the HSE School Board, the Noblesville School Board, the County Commissioners, and the County Council.
Julie Chambers, the HSE School Board President, stated clearly to me by email that she sees no reason to question the judgment of the Library Board on this matter. Given her opinion and given my remarks about HSE School Board Member Ms. Pritchett above, I see no reason to expect them to act.
I have emailed everyone on the Noblesville School Board and I received no response, except from brave Laura Alerding, who serves on both the Library Board and the Noblesville School Board. I see little reason to expect these School Boards (other than Ms. Alerding) to help us here. Remember that in November.
However, the County Commissioners and County Council are a different story: some of them are clearly concerned about the situation.
The County Commissioners appointed these two:
Bill Crandall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Craig Siebe (email@example.com)
The County Council appointed these two:
Heather Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note that Mr. Dierdorf did not attend this emergency meeting. In fact, he has missed three of the last five meetings. He also does not have a working email address listed on the HEPL site, so I have no way to contact him for his view.
Consider emailing our three County Commissioners and seven County Council members. Ask them to address this breach of public trust. Let them know that your confidence in the leadership of the library is shaken, and ask them to appoint new Board members.
County Council emails (copy and paste right into your email):
Steve.Schwartz@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Ken.Alexander@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Brad.Beaver@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Steven.Nation@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Sue.Maki@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Fred.Glynn@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Amy.Massillamany@hamiltoncounty.in.gov
County Commissioner emails:
Mark.Heirbrandt@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Steve.Dillinger@hamiltoncounty.in.gov; Christine.Altman@hamiltoncounty.in.gov
These folks can fix the problem. Let’s ask them to do so.
[Correction (7 February 2022): an earlier version of this post misstated the title of the book to be re-reviewed as Drawn to Sex; the actual title was Let’s Talk About It, a book by the same authors.]