Saline County Library Alliance is formed following QC action

After the Saline County Quorum Court passed a resolution during the group’s April 17 meeting, opponents of the measure came together to form the Saline County Library Alliance. On April 27, Bailey Morgan spoke with us about the Alliance, why it formed and the goals of the group. Mr. Morgan is also the chairman of the Saline County Democratic Party.

Bailey Morgan is the chair of the Democratic Party of Saline County and founding member of the Saline County Library Alliance

“I wasn’t aware of the initial quorum court meeting (March 30) where they had brought some kids books up. This was before the big, massive blow-up on social media ” Morgan said. “It wasn’t something on my radar until somebody shared a post saying ‘this is what’s coming up at the next quorum court meeting’. I think it even said the Saline County Republican Women are going to bring a group with some books and they are going to try to, I don’t even know if it was at the time a defund thing, they still haven’t said that’s what it is. It was implied in the post that it was similar to the Craighead County thing.

And so, the first thing I did was find out. I was told by my second vice-chair with the DPSC (Dustin Parsons, Democratic Party of Saline County) who notified me. I called Dean (McDonald) who lives in northeast Arkansas. I asked ‘this is what’s brewing down here. Have you heard anything?’. And he was like, I saw a Facebook post. And I was like, we are on the same page. So I confirmed it with some libraries that this was something that was going on that I had missed. I confirmed it with them and then, ok, we will mount a little bit of an effort to go to the quorum court and, you know, be a voice of reason on this. Because, at the time, generally, all that it was, was a couple of picture books.”

At this point, a decision was made.

“We’ll go get some people together, thinking it was going to be about a ten person meeting and if it gets any bigger, that’s ok.” Morgan recalls. “Literally, the day I had that thought was the day they (Saline County Republican Women group) started posting pictures (of the books). For me, it started out because I have the personal buy-in, but I love the library. They’ve been good to me. It’s the first place (my wife and I) went when we moved here. So I decided I’m going to go defend them. But also I felt a personal responsibility as chair of the Democratic Party of Saline County, we have a priority for not letting that institution go anywhere. It provides critical services to the public that we see as crucial.”

Bailey began to spread the word about the library issue. As details grew, the conversations included more than 200 people in about a week.

“By the time of the quorum court meeting, I think it was about 175 people.” Morgan said. “And so, I was, ok this is something bigger than I would have necessarily anticipated. People are very passionate about it because it exploded in a matter of days.”

From this point, Morgan looked to what had happened in Craighead County.

“It took them a little while but they built Citizens Defending the Craighead County Library. A coalition. So I reached out to some folks and asked if this was something they may be interested in and found out that a fight for the first website had been created under the name The Saline County Library Alliance. I searched for the owner and was basically given permission to start gathering people under that coalition name. And it was important to me from the jump that it needed to be a non-partisan thing. That’s how it started.”

Morgan said that meetings had begun and the first of which was standing room only at the Democratic Party of Saline County Headquarters in Downtown Benton.

He described the goals of the group.

“It’s going to be a two-pronged approach. The first is education and how the library operates.” Morgan said. “By that I mean that the library already had a method for challenging books. Through the seven years the library director (Patty Hector) has been there, it’s never been used. They directly bypassed it. We needed to inform people that this process already existed. We need to inform people of how it’s determined where books go. Generally speaking there are some people who are someone in the middle who don’t really know the process and see some of these posts and think that’s it’s everywhere and a systemic problem when it may just be how the American Library Association rated that book. We also want to educate people what a quorum court is, what the library board is, what the roles of these different boards. What is a JP (Justice of the Peace)? You’d be shocked at how many people don’t know. When we were trying to put together folks to go to the quorum court meeting, a question I got a few times was which judge was presiding over the hearing. It’s not that kind of court.”

Morgan continued by saying the group meetings went well and that members of the alliance like the non-partisan messaging.

“I don’t know why it’s coming out this way, but this issue is being treated very politically and pushing people to believe it is political.” Morgan relates. “It’s inconvenient, as the Democratic Party chair, but we have to be an ally with the alliance, even if it appears to be political, but it isn’t.”

Morgan states that there have been posts from people inside and outside Saline County that attempt to imply his involvement makes it political.

“(They) say, look, he’s a Democrat. That’s why he feels this way. I think that’s really unfortunate that that’s how it is being painted.” Morgan said. “I think I would feel this way (about the resolution and the library) regardless of how I had landed. But I think with the people that we have in this group, they’re not all members of the Democratic Party. In fact, a lot of the faces that I saw last night at the meeting, I’ve never seen before in my life. I felt, I probably would have seen them if they had been a member of the Democratic Party.”

The second prong is volunteer training.

Morgan then turned his attention to the resolution passed by the quorum court on April 17.

“I don’t see it as necessary,” he said. “Essentially I think the resolution, it doesn’t ask for anything that’s not being done. It’s like, keep inappropriate content away from kids. Ok, it’s not in the children’s section. There was one book they had. I believe it’s Jack of Hearts Mother. It’s in the Young Adult section and you can blame the American Library Association if you want to, but that’s such a broad age range. A seventeen-year-old is not the same as a twelve-year-old. And that’s why the library doesn’t keep books for twelve-year-olds with books for seventeen-year-olds. It happens it’s the same section, but they are not together. And, to me, it’s such a non-issue and I think it is to most people, too, once you understand there’s already mechanisms in place. They keep stuff separate anyway. But the rest of the resolution doesn’t deal with that. So, if it were just the resolution, that’s one thing. But there is also already Act 372 that’s already going into place. The JPs kept saying ‘we are passing this resolution to bring us in line with Act 372. You don’t need to pass a resolution to be in-line with a state law. It just happens. Are you going to pass a resolution every time a law changes? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, in that regard, just procedurally, in terms of where the books are placed, it’s not needed. There was already a process at the library. There has been for twenty years. That was mentioned at the quorum court as well. For me, for a number of reasons, it was a waste of everyone’s time and effort. But I think it represents the best and worst to me. Because a resolution like that doesn’t come out of the blue. So the argument can be made, and it was, that some people just want certain books put where it needs to go, to not be in children’s hands. And nobody’s saying that that’s wrong. There are books a kid probably shouldn’t be reading. But that’s not where this is going. It’s a good foot in the door where, I think, we can already kind of see it going if you follow the Craighead County playbook. It just happens that now there is a playbook and we can move through it a lot faster. And it’s disingenuous when the defense is ‘why would you defend this material being in a kid’s hands’, because no-one’s going to defend it. That’s a non-starter. If the issue is ‘why are you bringing this up in the first place and where are you going next’, if it were just about that resolution and just about Act 372, they wouldn’t still be talking about it. We wouldn’t probably still be talking about it, but yet, here we are, a little bit like we are in the eye of the hurricane, right?”

In regards to banning books or change in funding for the library, Morgan responded, “For book banning, there’s never a reason. If we banned every book that we disagreed with, if we went after every text and piece of material we found offensive, we wouldn’t have much left. History does not look incredibly fondly on people that ban books, on people that want to remove any semblance of evidence that a different opinion exists. Even if you disagree with it, you need the evidence that it exists. People deserve to learn and form their own beliefs.”

On the subject of defunding, Morgan is opposed to cuts or defunding and related a story of when he was a young child of a single mother. The closest library was a full city away and going to it was like a field trip to him. “At home we did have a computer, but it was a clunky old thing. But at the library, having resources to those kind of things and those resources are beyond value. Those resources are there because of the funding they receive. If that funding, if the situation is like it was in Craighead County and the funding gets cut in half, those resources that are being used will be cut, and some people don’t know they are there. Libraries have been more than just books for a long time.”

Next: Point-of-view from proponents of the resolution


Funds Cut Passes for Craighead County Libraries” – Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Arkansas Act 372

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