A $1,500 grant awarded to the Kenai Community Library was back up for consideration by the Kenai City Council on Wednesday. The body voted to postpone the legislation during its Oct. 20 meeting after members of the community raised concerns about what books would be purchased with the money, as well as the agency awarding the grant. The move prompted cries of censorship and the launch of a community fundraiser that raised more than $15,000 for the library.
The grant, awarded by Region 5 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, was to be used to replace outdated health and wellness materials, Kenai Community Library Director Katja Wolfe told the council during the Oct. 20 meeting. Because new members took their seats on the council after the legislation was postponed, the ordinance must be introduced by the new council before a final vote can occur. A vote in favor by the council on Wednesday would re-introduce the legislation, and a public hearing and final vote would be held at the following meeting on Dec. 15.
Included in the council’s packet for Wednesday’s meeting are several comments in favor of allowing the grant to be accepted, most of which were sent at the end of October. Of the eight comments included in the council’s Wednesday packet, seven voiced support for approval of the grant. The other came from Dave Peck, who sought to clarify comments he made during the Oct. 20 meeting.
The letters in support came from community members, the Friends of the Kenai Community Library and from two employees of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and advocated for the qualifications of Wolfe to select library materials
“No city council nor other governmental agency should determine what books should be placed in the library,” wrote Maria and Thomas Allison in an Oct. 25 letter to the council. “Free access to all information is what the library is about. Librarians have always been major defenders of intellectual freedom, long before most people even knew what it was.”
“Professional librarians such as your Kenai City Library Director, are qualified to both make these grant applications, and make subject and title selections for their collections using those funds,” wrote Karen Jensen, the director of libraries at UAF. “It is completely objectionable for anyone outside of the library to dictate specific titles or approve individual resources, without the professional background to understand collection development policies, procedures, and the scope of the collection, as well as the information needs of all local residents.”
“I personally think Katja Wolfe deserves an apology for such an ethical affront from anyone with fewer library credentials, less experience, and less knowledge of our interlinked library than she has. Her treatment at the recent meeting was offensive in the extreme,” wrote Barbara Christian, of Kenai.
Kenai City Council members Henry Knackstedt and Glenese Pettey, who cast two of the three votes in support of accepting the grant on Oct. 20, specified the source of Wolfe’s authority to select library materials in a Nov. 12 memo accompanying the legislation.
Kenai Community Library’s regulations and policies, including “book selection,” are outlined in the City of Kenai’s municipal code. That section says that library materials will be selected based on their “value of interest, information, and enlightenment of all the people of the community.” It goes on to say that both the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement as adopted by the American Library Association will be adhered to. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander confirmed to the Clarion last month that Kenai Municipal Code gives Wolfe the authority to select library materials.
In a Nov. 12 memo to the council, Wolfe again requested that the council approve the grant and offered more information about the Network of the National Library of Medicine, the subject of materials that would be considered and the library’s goal in pursuing the new materials.
“We aim to serve as a resource for reliable health information and to help reduce health disparities in our community by making health information freely available and accessible,” Wolfe wrote. “Health literacy is a 21st century skill that is crucial to understanding health information and making knowledgeable health-related decisions. The award will help us expand our efforts to refresh and replenish our health section with new and updated titles. Your consideration is appreciated.”
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.