Nearly 250 people and counting have joined forces to show their support for libraries in the Community Library Network.
The Community Library Network serves Kootenai and western Shoshone counties. Its libraries are in Post Falls, Hayden, Rathdrum, Athol, Harrison, Spirit Lake and Pinehurst, and with its Bookmobile, it takes library services on the road.
Coeur d’Alene Public Library is not a network member.
The Community Library Network Alliance, independent of the library network, was officially formed in November 2022 by Emily Christopherson of Post Falls and Angela Drewien of Hayden.
It is a grassroots movement effected by those who are passionate and concerned about local library goings on and who believe a thriving public library system is necessary for a community to be vibrant and well-informed.
Part of the group’s mission is to ensure the integrity and success of the local libraries through qualified, library-minded and trustworthy library trustees.
“I’ve always been a supporter of public libraries,” Christopherson said Monday. “As a homeschool mom of three, homeschooling for five years, it’s my most valued resource. If someone asked, ‘What’s the one thing you need to homeschool kids?’ It’s a library card.”
She said libraries are where homeschoolers make new friends and build a sense of community.
“Just last week, the homeschool groups played games and exchanged valentines,” she said. “This week, they’re doing the homeschool science fair.”
The Community Library Network Alliance formed because a growing number of community members recognized the need to increase public awareness and education about the roles and responsibilities of library trustees.
“The board are our fiduciaries, and that duty requires them to stay objective, be unselfish, act responsibly, behave honestly, maintain trustworthiness and work efficiently as stewards of public trust,” the alliance states on its website, clnalliance. org. “We exist to help provide transparency and help ensure that trustees work for the good of the library and the communities they represent, rather than to benefit any self-interest.”
Christopherson said she has been closely following Community Library Network board meetings since the 2021 election. She has observed, among other things, public scrutiny of library materials and policies as some in the community call for the removal of books and content they find to be offensive or inappropriate for children.
According to the Community Library Network’s Materials Selection Policy, approved by the board Nov. 4, “the choice of library materials is an individual matter and, while anyone is free to reject for his or herself materials of which they do not approve, he/ she cannot exercise censorship to restrict the freedom of use and access to others. The responsibility for use of library materials by minors rests with their parents or legal guardians.”
The network also has a procedure in place for anyone to submit a request for reconsideration of material.
Theses requests go to the library director, who reviews the forms for evaluation and recommendations, and those requests go before the board, if additional action is warranted. The patron who submits the request is notified of the outcome.
Christopherson said the same group of people come to meetings to give public comment about the materials in question.
“As someone who appreciates the freedoms we have in Idaho, I truly feel this group of citizens, whether or not they realize it, is asking for more government control rather than supporting parental rights,” she said. “When you share an extremely narrow mindset about what libraries are and who they serve, that harms the community.”
She said this group has a growing list of more than 700 titles it finds concerning. The group’s leader has called to defund libraries if the materials aren’t removed, she said.
Among the materials in question are Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” and Munro Leaf’s 1936 book, “The Story of Ferdinand,” which is on the list for having a theme of gender identity.
“Libraries represent American values — free expression, strong community and self direction — they’re institutions of learning, they’re our neighborhood hubs,” Christopherson said. “They transcend political parties. What’s most important is for all of us as citizens to show our love for libraries, why they’re important for us and why we should vote May 16.”
Two incumbent library network board seats are on the ballot in the May 16 election — those of clerk Regina McCrea and Vice Chair Judy Meyer.
During the 2021 election, trustees Bob Fish and Michele Veale were ousted by Kootenai County Republican Central Committee backed candidates Vanessa Robinson and Rachelle Ottosen, who presently sit on the board.
Fish, a longtime Republican and past director/current member of the Pachyderm Club of North Idaho, said the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee first began its efforts to take over local taxing districts around 2017, which is when he was elected to the Community Library Network board.
“I was the first person they marked off,” he said. “They went into the libraries and did a real heavy search and found a number of books in the children’s and young people’s sections that they found weren’t satisfactory. They paraded them around the community and told everyone how terrible we were. This what you call a straw man issue, an issue they dug up that wasn’t important and they did everything they could to make it sound really bad.”
He said this is part of why he joined the Community Library Network Alliance.
“I felt this would be a tremendous thing to get involved in,” Fish said. “They have quite a few folks, and that’s what they need.”
Drewien, who also homeschools her children and has known Christopherson for some time, said censorship rhetoric and calls for materials to be removed initially encouraged her to join Christopherson in founding the alliance because of her individual concerns. Those concerns have grown into continued advocacy for access to books and support for the librarians, the facilities and the programming.
The alliance’s main goals are positive support and education, as done through projects like the Hygiene Hamper drive through Feb. 25 to celebrate Library Lovers Month, and working on public outreach to educate the community about all the resources the library offers, as well as correcting harmful misinformation about local librarians and the collection they maintain, Drewien said.
“We really want to make sure our library trustees follow their own code of ethics and meet their responsibilities to the taxpayers, to uplift and support our library network and its improvement,” she said. “There has been a vocal opposition in the past couple of years, by the KCRCC, that has had a negative effect on the community, particularly using the government to control what we’re able to read, that violates the tenets of library stewardship, particularly intellectual freedom.”
She said the alliance’s biggest concern is ensuring the nonpartisan board comprises nonpartisan trustees, “real stewards where we can invest our public trust.”
She referred to North Idaho College’s board issues leading to potential accreditation loss “due the actions of the KCRCC-backed trustees, who still haven’t addressed how they are going to address the show cause sanction.”
“We don’t want what’s happening there to start happening in our local libraries,” Drewien said. “We all want a well-functioning library that supports lifelong education and learning. Those looking to disparage our libraries because their philosophies differ from another community member’s philosophies could instead remember that the First Amendment guarantees not only our right to free expression through speech, but also our right to receive that free expression from others through speech, which includes all the books in our library. That’s a Constitutional protection, and we should take that seriously.”
The Community Library Network Alliance, along with the nonpartisan group DART (Dedicated, Accountable, Responsible, Together) will host a “Roles and Responsibilities of Trustees” panel discussion at 6 p.m. April 13 in the Harding Center, 411 N. 15th St., Coeur d’Alene.
The next regular meeting of the Community Library Network board will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Post Falls Library, 821 N. Spokane St.
Grassroots group promotes education, nonpartisanship, trustee integrity
By DEVIN WEEKS Staff Writer