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Flathead County Library Board could decide future of young adult collection Thursday

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | March 27, 2024 12:00 AM

The Flathead County Library Board of Trustees is poised to make a decision this week that could change the way young adult novels are shelved or labeled in the library.

It’s a continuation of a discussion from February’s board meeting, where board Chair David Ingram expressed concerns about teens finding age-inappropriate content in books designated for young adults. 

The young adult collection is housed in the teen areas of Flathead County Libraries. Ingram proposed, and later withdrew, a motion at the February meeting that would have moved to classify all books in the library as either “for adults or for minors.” He said he was concerned that the intended age range for the section was too large and that parents might have a hard time ensuring that their teenagers wouldn’t pick up an inappropriate book.  

With the proposal paused, Library Director Teri Dugan drafted five options for handling the young adult section for trustees to consider at the board’s Thursday meeting. The suggestions are included in her director’s report.

Dugan also plans to share the findings of a recent audit conducted by Teen Services Librarian Starr White and other employees. Out of the 318 young adult titles in the system, only three had one or more sources placing the item in the general adult section, according to library documents. The audit compared the intended age range from publisher Baker & Taylor, NoveList, Syndetics Unbound and nonprofit Common Sense Media, which provide ratings for media and technology. 

The first of Dugan’s five options is to maintain the status quo. She said the library purchases for the ages of 12 to 18 and the section reflects that — as shown in the audit. Dugan said she supports this option, adding that the staff could audit the young adult section annually. 

The second option calls for leaving the collection where it is housed, but adding grade labels for books. This would provide more information to patrons and could be done with a label to the outside spine or a stamp to the inside cover. Labels would designate books into two categories: grades 6-9 and grades 9-12.

The third option is to label the collection with the grades stickers or stamps and then divide the collection, housing the books according to their age audience designation. The overlap of grade nine would require librarian review and expertise as to which section to place certain titles. 

The last two options involve community input. One would involve a community survey study, with a comparison to one done recently in Beaufort County, South Carolina. According to CBS News, nearly 100 books were temporarily pulled from school shelves there. The review took more than a year and cost the school district almost $8,000. In the end, five books were removed from the shelves of the school library. Dugan warned in her director’s report that this strategy could bring “national media attention to the community, which could result in negative media coverage, staff overturn, as well as attracting activism to our area.”

The second option involving the community at large called for the creation of a panel of parents from various groups and backgrounds. This would include moderated sessions with input about what these parents would like to see in the young adult collection. Dugan said the panel could consist of working parents, grandparents, homeschooling parents and parents from various organizations. Those sessions would be used to gather information and set policy for ordering the young adult collection. 

Dugan’s report noted that the library has just begun to curate the young adult collection within the last nine months. Prior to 2023, they did not have a dedicated teen librarian to order and curate books. She asks that the librarians be allowed to continue this work. 

“Perhaps this topic could be revisited down the road to allow for more time for me to adjust to my new position, open a new Bigfork library, implement our newly changed name and help advocate for a new location for our main Kalispell library,” Dugan wrote in her report to trustees. 

In addition to Dugan’s proposals, White is also expected to provide comments to the board. 

At February’s meeting, many trustees seemed on board with discussing changes to the young adult collection. Vice Chair Carmen Cuthbertson described the designation as a sales tool by the publishing industry, despite it being created by librarians in the mid-20th century. She said she felt like young adult books vary in subject matter too much for parents to know for sure that their children are reading age appropriate materials. 

Ingram said in February that he wants to provide a guide post for parents to participate in what their child is exposed to and when.

“My goal is to provide our selecting librarians with a clear definition of what a given collection should contain and also provide guidance to parents regarding the general contents of specific areas of the library,” Ingram further explained his position in an email to the Daily Inter Lake. 

The next Flathead County Library Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for March 28 at 9 a.m. in the South Campus Conference room, 40 11th St. W., in Kalispell. 

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.