Library Board Member Speaks of Books, Quorum Court and the April 17 Resolution

Kara Conrad is a teacher and a self-proclaimed lover of books. In 2022, she found a way to combine these two passions and sought a spot on the Saline County Library Board of Trustees. She agreed to share her point of view regarding a resolution passed by the Saline County Quorum Court on April 17 that suggested the two libraries in the county system to “enact policies to relocate materials that are not subject matter or age appropriate for children, due to their sexual content or imagery, to an area that is not accessible to children.”

Her comments in this report are hers as a member and she is not speaking as a spokesperson for the full board. She spoke of how she came to be on the board in 2022. Conrad is one of five board members. The others four are: Allison Nolley, Caroline Miller Robinson, Marian Douglas, Laine Holleran. Each member was contacted for an interview request.

“Speaking from my own experience, I put in an application to be on the board when someone I know told me about it.” Conrad said. “I had to go to the County judge’s office and be confirmed by the QC before I could begin in July of last year. I have only taken someone’s place who had to resign so I’m fulfilling her term. Typically, terms are for five years.”

Addressing her motivation for joining the board, Conrad said, “I was very interested in being on the board because I love books and reading and libraries. Always have, always will. I saw the board as a way to give back to Saline County while being a part of something I love. It seemed like a win-win.”

Kara Conrad is a school teacher with near 30 years experience , Saline County resident, and lover of books.

The conversation turned to the April 17 resolution and how it came to be from her perspective.

“My memory of the sequence of events is that we were not contacted as a board prior to the meeting by either a JP (Justice of the Peace) or the county judge about the resolution.”, she replied. “I emailed most, if not all the JPs and the (County) Judge once I heard about the meeting and some of them responded to those emails, with varying degrees of information. While I did identify myself as a board member in those messages, I also wanted them to know I was contacting them as a citizen, mom, and teacher as well.”

With the understanding that the resolution was, as related during the April 17 meeting of the quorum court, a “suggestion” without the power of enforcement, Conrad gave her view on the necessity of it.

“I didn’t feel the resolution was necessary for several reasons.”, she said. “One, we all know the new law will take effect soon. Also, there are procedures in place for when someone wants to challenge a book and none of those procedures had been followed. I personally didn’t see the point of making a resolution to make additional steps when the current ones weren’t being followed. Lastly, I was very concerned that books labeled sexually explicit were just the first step in a very slippery slope. Unfortunately, I fear I was correct in that. We (the community) have already seen this begin as some of the most vocal proponents of pulling books have added any book for children with LGBTQ characters as well as books about race relations and social justice.”

Conrad went on to share her thoughts on the rationale of how the resolution came to be.

“As for why the resolution was presented and passed, I can only give you my opinion based on what I’ve seen and heard myself.”, she continued. “There is a group who has made this their calling and while I typically admire anyone fighting for children, I see some ‘spoiling for a fight’ among some. They wanted to find books they didn’t like, and of course they did. I LOVE books and I know if I searched, I could find books at any library that I don’t like, disagree with, or am offended by. I don’t make those searches because I’ve understood these are public libraries that serve myself and my family, but also every other family in a community. I go to the library (both now and for years before I was on the board) to find books and materials I DO want to interact with. That being said, I absolutely recognize there are many people who have concerns about book content and truly want what is best for kids. I believe that for most on the QC (Quorum Court) that is the case. I do not think members of the court have an ulterior motive in making the resolution – they were going with the information they had and doing what they felt was right. I definitely wish more of them would have taken some time to talk to librarians or even visited the library before taking a vote or even writing the resolution. I know a couple who did, but most did not. That is unfortunate.”

Conrad said the board has reviewed the policies currently in place to ensure compliance with Act 372.

She recounted the type of calls and feedback she has received from members of the community since the resolution passed.

“I have received, and I assume other board members have as well, several emails and a phone call from community members since the April meeting. Most have been very polite, asking for my stance on the situation. A few have not been as kind. I have tried to answer everyone, and not give a cut and paste response. I really do appreciate the conversations, as I feel that is a critical step missed from all of this, and a large part of why we’re currently experiencing so much divisiveness. I always tell people who reach out about the process in place to challenge a book. I want them to use that if they feel it necessary – I want to hear what the issues are.”

We asked her to share any additional feedback she has received, whether it be positive or critical.

“One of the positives of the April meeting was the large turnout. While I know many were not there in support of the library, so many were! It was amazing to stand in that long line and have conversations with strangers and find we had so much in common. It was a community highlight, I think. I’ve also been stopped not so much as a board member but as a known ‘bookworm’ and heard comments on both sides of the issue. Again, it’s these conversations that are so critical in the county growing through this process. One person told me that she didn’t understand if she could respect a person’s right to check out Christian literature at the library, even though she isn’t a Christian herself, why can’t they also respect her right to check out books of her choosing, even if they don’t agree with the book? She was not speaking of the sexually explicit material but rather the books on social justice which many have targeted as well. I know there are citizens who are strongly against the resolution who have come together to support the library.”

She went on to describe the criticism she has seen.

“If the line to get into the meeting was a highlight, the rhetoric and vitriol being spewed over social media is definitely a low point. Members of SCRW (Saline County Republican Women) have said on social media, and to me personally, that they are being attacked verbally. I hate to hear that and while I have no reason to doubt them, I have not seen that myself. What I have seen and heard is librarians and board members being called groomers, pedophiles, and other equally atrocious names. It’s frustrating of course, but it’s also a bit sad. Ok, more than a bit sad. Most of the folks throwing those names around have never had a conversation with me or I presume with others who they’ve assigned those names. They wouldn’t know me if we passed each other on the street, yet because we are connected to the library, they feel it’s ok to say these things. Some of these people also like to say ‘I don’t hate the library. I LOVE the library and the people who work there.’ But really? I don’t see that in their comments. The camp counselor in me just wants us all to sit down and talk. TALK, not name call and throw accusations. I actually asked the president of SCRW if she’d meet me for coffee one day. She seemed open to the idea. I’ve not followed up on it because of all the ugliness that has followed, (but)not ugliness from her.

The question was then posed, if the library is in full compliance with the new law from day-one, do you think the current efforts aimed at the books in question will continue?

“I do because even at the meeting one speaker declared she would be back to QC meetings with books until she’d put every sexually explicit, LGBTQ book and every anti-white book in front of them. Not a direct quote of course but she did use the term ‘anti-white’. For some of the most vocal groups, they’ve said reports of defunding the library or banning books are lies, but then some of them will comment in other places that if the books they want out aren’t taken out, they will move to defund, that the defunding in other states may be what it takes, that our library’s shelves should look as empty as those in other states facing book banning. One caller told me she wanted ‘those books’ taken out of the children’s area. Then added ‘really I want to see them gone altogether’. So no, I don’t think this is going to go away with the law.”

The topic of banning books was addressed.

“Banning books is not something I see myself advocating for.” She continued, “It’s not for me to say what others can read, especially in a public space. Relocating? I’ve not ever had to consider that, and honestly, I think had I been given the chance to hear their concerns, I may have been more ‘on their side’ than they imagine. I do understand the concerns of parents worried their preteen may wander onto a book with sexually explicit material. I would’ve liked the opportunity to hear their concerns. The thought seems to be that as a board member, I have read every book in the library. As much as I read, even I have not done that! I am reading books that have either been on banned lists elsewhere or that have come up locally. I want to be informed. I can’t have an opinion on something I’ve not read.”

Cutting or eliminating funding to public libraries is also a subject upon which Conrad commented.

“Cutting funding is scary as I think about all the families I know who use the library’s services for everything from cake pans to MakerSpace to Wi-Fi. One of the first things teachers recommend for kids during the summer is the library’s summer reading program. I know so many families who simply cannot afford to buy books (or cake pans or art supplies). Libraries help level the playing field for those who may not have the resources some of us have.”

She shared her final thoughts

“This is such a deeply personal topic for me. I am so sad, and angry, that this much hate and division has come to our town in the form of books.” Conrad said.

“I think we have more in common than not. We all want to do what is best for kids. We all want our families and others we care about to be happy, feel safe, grow strong. We want to make decisions for ourselves and our children. We want to do our jobs, volunteer our time, live our lives without being called the worst of names. I hope the adults can come together and make a plan that makes Saline County stronger.”

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