MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) — Changes are coming to the way books are selected for Manatee County’s public library system.
Historically, the library services manager decides which books make it on library shelves. Soon, members of the community appointed by the county commission will have more input in that process.
During a meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted to expand the existing five-seat Library Advisory Board to nine seats. As part of that vote, they also decided to expand that committee’s duties to include collection and development. This means those board members will have a say in what titles end up in the public library system.
Some residents spoke out during the meeting, calling the proposed changes “censorship.”
County resident and Friends of the Library member Julie Perry says up until recently, commissioner participation in the citizens advisory board meetings was “nonexistent.”
“The citizens board consists of multiple citizens selected around the area that the commissioners approve and up until this year, only one commissioner has attended the meetings. So now, all of a sudden, they feel that there needs to be a citizens board to basically curate, and I use that term lightly, curate the material within our libraries. A public library is for all citizens within the United States,” Perry said. “It is our right to be able to access materials across the board. It is not the government’s decision to tell us what materials we should be having access to.”
Commissioner Amanda Ballard, who proposed the increase in patron-driven book acquisition, said the idea is to let the public have a say in what they want to see in their libraries.
“I think there are a lot of people who are feeling scared, feeling kind of up in arms about this. This is truly meant to be an advisory board. I think the public library is a little bit different than a school library for example, and we have to accommodate all points of view. No matter what I might personally find inappropriate or abhorrent, that has to be available for people in the library. It is a public library and freedom of speech means thatwe have to represent all points of view,” said Commissioner Ballard ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The county attorney will now need to draft an updated ordinance relating to the library advisory board. Once complete, it will go before the commission for a public hearing and official vote.