The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. After the Kenai City Council postponed a vote to approve a grant funding health and wellness books, community members set up a GoFundMe to support the purchase of materials. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. After the Kenai City Council postponed a vote to approve a grant funding health and wellness books, community members set up a GoFundMe to support the purchase of materials. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

After cries of censorship, community raises funds for library

The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone acceptance of a $1,500 grant for materials related to health and wellness.

A community-led fundraiser has surpassed its goal of $5,000 to purchase new library materials, less than a week after the Kenai City Council postponed action on a grant awarded to the Kenai Community Library — pending review of materials to be purchased.

“In response to the Kenai City Council’s recent decision to postpone approval of grant funds for the Kenai Community Library, join me in raising funds to support the Library’s staff and their ability to purchase books without Council censorship,” the GoFundMe webpage says.

The city council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone action on legislation that would have accepted a $1,500 grant for the purchase of library materials related to health and wellness, including mental health, suicide prevention, self-care and reference books about Medicare and Medicaid, among other things.

Council members requested Kenai Community Library Director Katja Wolfe provide an inventory of proposed purchases to be funded by the grant, which was awarded by Region 5 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine. Wolfe said during that meeting that while the final grant report is not due until next spring, the library was hoping to purchase materials before the end of November.

Some council members voiced concerns about the request for an inventory of purchases, which one council member called a “slippery slope” and another said could be considered “censor(ship).”

GoFundMe organizers Sovala Kisena and Todd Smith, both of the central peninsula, said Tuesday that the fundraiser was meant to be a way to take positive action in response to the council’s decision to postpone the grant.

“It’s the definition of censorship … and it bothered me,” Smith said.

Kisena said he and Smith joked about splitting the $1,500 and each donating $750 to the library when they heard the council postponed the grant, but saw an opportunity to have a greater impact by starting the GoFundMe.

“It’s good to see the community come together on a topic that’s important,” Kisena said.

Financial donations to the library received through the GoFundMe account will be given to the Friends of the Kenai Community Library, which can then donate the funds to the library. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said Tuesday that the city council will still need to approve funds donated from the Friends of the Kenai Library to the library.

The fundraiser had an initial goal of raising $1,500 — the same amount awarded through the grant, but Kisena said that goal was hit within three hours of the GoFundMe going live. The current goal is $5,000.

“I love our library,” Heidi Kellar, who donated $25, wrote on the GoFundMe site. “Thank you for the opportunity to support your work.”

“Suppression is politically unacceptable,” another commenter, Shawn Haskin, who donated $50, wrote on the page.

Wolfe said Tuesday that several people have reached out either to the library or to her directly since the last Kenai City Council meeting to voice both their concern about the council’s actions and their support for the library.

“We’ve had some talks about intellectual freedom and what it means to have a (library) collection that’s there for everyone,” Wolfe said of the conversations she’s had with people who reached out.

As of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the GoFundMe had raised more than $5,800 from more than 50 donors with some individual contributions as high as $500. Wolfe said she heard rumors about a GoFundMe effort on Monday night but didn’t see the page until Tuesday morning, at which point more than $1,800 had already been donated.

“I’m actually kind of speechless about it,” Wolfe said Tuesday.

In addition to extending her thanks to the organizers of the donation page, Wolfe said she’s grateful to be a part of such a “generous” community that wants to be involved with supporting the library.

The list of contributors includes Kenai City Council members Glenese Pettey and Henry Knackstedt, Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander, Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz, former Kenai City Council candidate Alex Douthit, Soldotna City Council members Justin Ruffridge and Dan Nelson and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, and several Kenai Peninsula Borough employees, among others.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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