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Leave the Heavy Lifting to the Librarians

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Libraries represent community, connectedness, and until recently, inclusion. Libraries are places to get lost: within the pages of a great book. They are windows to the world of exploration, and can be a safe haven for children as they are exploring boundaries, relating to others, and discovering other cultures. 

A related matter is the growing concern (see Mayo Clinic, Psychology Today) over the lack of resiliency shown by young people. How do they flex this muscle if they are only given access to a narrow swim lane of reading material at a local library? 

It’s one thing to be more aware of mental health concerns, it is quite another to actually do something about it. Banning books and relocating “age appropriate” reading material (based upon the narrow-minded opinion of the library’s Board) are not on the list of helpful solutions.

In 2016, the City of Fishers, Indiana (my hometown) launched an Anti-Stigma campaign (Stigma Free Fishers), with large, painted plaster-molded brains displayed as public art at various locations around the city. This was in cooperation with not only city agencies (Department of Public Health, Fire Department, Police Department), but also with Hamilton Southeastern Schools (where I am a graduate, as well as my two older children). Apparently the Hamilton East Public Library missed the memo.

Fishers was named “Best Place to Live in America” by Money Magazine in 2017 and “Community of the Year” by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2016. Fishers has done a better job than most cities with inclusion — there’s still more to do — but they’ve made some impressive progress. And since those accolades were awarded, Fishers has maintained a high ranking — or did — until last month, given the media storm with the Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL). The HEPL has branches in two cities in Hamilton county: Noblesville and Fishers. 

To be fair, the City of Fishers has nothing to do with the library located within feet of its City Hall. Fishers does not appoint a single Board member, nor does it have any executive authority whatsoever, but they are in the line of fire. Fishers has a reputation of being progressive, attractive for tech companies, has a fabulous relationship with the city’s school system, and many more positive attributes. Fishers is a wonderful community to live, work, and play. 

Those individuals who are in a precarious position are the library employees. The Board’s misstep is not a true reflection of those who actually work between the stacks — yet it appears that they are the ones at odds with their governance.

It took well-known author and area resident, John Green, to write a letter in opposition to the removal of his books from the young adult section (there’s a poster of him inside the young adult section), to get attention on this. By the way, my kids read his books when they were in 4th or 5th grade — still in elementary school. 

Here’s an excerpt from John Green’s letter to the Hamilton East Public Library:

As a business owner, I’m infuriated by your third-rate vice signaling that complicates efforts to bring business and talent here. As a parent, I’m disgusted by your disregard for the professionalism and expertise of teachers and librarians. As a Hoosier author, I am deeply offended by your inaccurate and hurtful portrayal of my work. And as a citizen, I am so disappointed that you would use public time and public resources to engage in work that actively harms the public through censorship, defacto and otherwise. 

I implore you to walk this awful policy back and allow the real experts to decide where to shelve my books and those of my colleagues. 

I agree with every one of Green’s sentiments. As a corporate communications professional focused on economic development, decisions like the HEPL’s makes my job infinitely more challenging. Green is 100% accurate that actions like those of the HEPL Board harm a community’s reputation. 

Decisions related to the allocation of library books to shelves is something that should be left to the experts. My suggestion is to broaden the governance of the HEPL, allowing comprehensive screening of Board members appointed, and most importantly, allow the City of Fishes to appoint (2) of their own representatives to the HEPL Board. After all, one of the HEPL branches is in Fishers steps away fro City Hall. Isn’t this how the American Revolution was started: taxation without representation? Fishers tax dollars are certainly laundered to fund the HEPL.

Also, isn’t it the job of parents to…um…parent? A child with a library card can check out whatever they wish. If parents take issue with what their child is reading, then they should be directly responsible and not subject others to their intellectual limitations. 

There’s story after story of children finding meaning in their own lives by simply reading a book. Representation is equally, if not more important than subject matter. Books depicting people of color for all ages, but especially for young children — provide an opportunity to feel included. Isn’t this how all of us should feel? A sense of belonging? Being loved? Being included? The profound impact of a child seeing themselves fairly represented is immeasurable. This is something most of us take for granted. Many people — especially people of color — have not had this experience. Books honoring LGBTQIA+, domestic abuse, divorce, and other traumas are important to read, because this is where we seek to understand, to discover connection. I know from personal experience that this is where people connect and where compassion starts: when you can relate with others. Don’t parents want their children to experience connectivity through reading? Books magically transport us to different geographic locations, eras, and worlds. They can be inspirational and tragic and moving and spark imagination. Books can teach us so much if we only make them available to be read.  

In addition to disregarding economic developmental data, the message of exclusion and disrespecting individual rights is evident within many policies. Fear-based decision-making that’s completely nonsensical tends to be the road frequently taken when there’s no checks and balances. 

What are these people afraid of? Honestly…what’s the worst thing that can happen in an inclusive society where humans feel a sense of belonging and communities display the best example of humanity? 

Kara Kavensky is a corporate communications strategist, PR expert, author, and podcaster of Record Scratch with Kara. 

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This article originally appeared on Inside Indiana Business.

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