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Book drop incident prompts staff resignations while ‘sense of unease’ persists at library

Daily Inter Lake | August 26, 2022 12:00 AM

Two staff members at ImagineIF Libraries have resigned and a third is expected to follow suit after an incident earlier this month where books riddled with bullet holes were left in the Kalispell book drop.

ImagineIF Library Director Ashley Cummins said many library staff members have a sense of unease and concern for their safety after the incident, which at the time was seen as a potential threat to the library.

“I'm just attempting to promote the positive work that we're doing and the positive interactions— to just encourage staff to look forward to the future, that we are still doing extremely well, and the work that we're doing to improve things,” Cummins told the library Board of Trustees Thursday during their regular meeting.

Kalispell Police investigated the incident, determining it was isolated and that the books were mistakenly donated after being used for target practice. There were no controversial titles among the books that had bullet holes in them, but it did cause the library buildings to close for one day.

Cummins said while the library had been planning on installing security cameras around the entire building, the process was expedited to install one of the cameras by the book drop following the incident. The library is also completing a safety assessment conducted by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and will have monthly safety training for the foreseeable future.

The safety training is mandated for all county entities, not just the library due to the book drop incident, but “several incidents” across the county, Cummins noted.

Bringing forward additional concerns, Cummins said library staff has voiced concerns about large public involvement at monthly library board meetings held in the basement of the Kalispell branch, which is often contentious, and has requested a different venue for meetings.

She said the after-meeting interactions can be distracting for staff while they try to work, and in general, recent news articles and the book drop incident have made staff uncomfortable. If an alternative meeting space can be located, Cummins said staff would prefer it.

“I'm inclined to look into that, I think it would help a lot of situations,” Cummins said, noting that at least one trustee has expressed interest in holding meetings off site. “And I just don't see a downside to it really.”

Board Chair Doug Adams voiced concerns about consistency if the board is moving spaces every month, but trustees were open to the idea of holding meetings elsewhere as long as it’s in a consistent location.

Cummins is expected to report back to the board next month with options. The September board meeting is still slated to be at the Kalispell branch.

DURING PUBLIC comment, a few of the candidates for the open trustee seat on the board used the time to voice opinions about a number of library-related topics. Thirteen candidates have applied for the position left open when former trustee Marsha Sultz resigned in June.

Trustee applicant Valerie McGarvey expressed concern about the book drop incident, relating it to the language the board uses when discussing challenged books like LGBTQ autobiography “Gender Queer.” The book has started a conversation around what materials should be allowed on library shelves, with some recent public commenters saying that it promotes pedophilia. McGarvey said words like “child pornography,” “pedophilia” and “grooming,” are being thrown at people who don’t agree with removing the books.

“These words have been repeated in public comment that has gone unchallenged by this board. These words have floated out into our community and laid at the feet of our staff and people like me, who come to defend the library and the freedom to read … A person who has been serving Jesus Christ for 40 years as a faithful Christian has had those charges laid at my feet because I choose to defend the freedom to read in this community,” McGarvey said.

Trustee applicant Abby Moscatel spoke next saying she’s a champion of the First Amendment, but doesn’t agree that “Gender Queer” should be in the library.

“Although I am a fervent First Amendment supporter, I also think that we need to just make sure that the books that our children have access to readily are appropriate for their age. I have a major problem with the book ‘Gender Queer,’ and the other books. Flipping through them, they are pornographic in nature, in my opinion — like, you know it when you see it,” Moscatel said.

Another applicant, Diane Taylor-Mahnke, said while she appreciates others caring about what materials her children read, it’s her duty as a parent to determine what is appropriate for her kids, not the boards.

“When you come down to history, the people who ban books and keep them away from people never ever come out as the good guys. They're always the bad guys, and I would hope that you would choose to be good guys,” Taylor-Mahnke said.

Moscatel responded by saying she “doesn’t at all want to ban books.”

“I'm saying if something is pornographic or sexual in nature, it doesn't need to be in the kids section ... It needs to be in an adult section,” Moscatel said.

“Gender Queer” is an autobiography and is not found in the children’s section of the library.

The board is expected to conduct interviews with trustee applicants on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Sept. 22 starting at 9 a.m. at the Kalispell branch.