For the final story of our series on a resolution passed by the Saline County Quorum Court on April 17, we sat down with Patty Hector, county library director, and Kari Lapp, community engagement manager to hear what impact the resolution has had and reaction to it. The resolution suggested that “the library 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”.
Patty Hector, Saline County Library Director
Hector has been a librarian for 38 years in locations ranging from Fort Smith to California to Saline County. She has been in her current position as library director for Saline County for seven years.
Kari Lapp, Community Engagement Manager
Lapp has a degree in public relations and journalism with a minor in marketing. She has worked at the library for seven years. Previously she coordinated marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The interview first focused on the resolution and Act 372 (SB81) that will become law in Arkansas later this year. The act, primarily sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Justin Gonzales, co-sponsored by Mary Bentley & Matt Stone, all Republicans, of the Arkansas legislature, sets placement guidelines for books in the library that may be deemed as inappropriate for children and teens. The resolution passed by the quorum court contains similar language.
“One of the things I want to point out is that they made this law and they made this resolution, I still have to follow the law, that’s the First Amendment.”, Hector stated. “They tried to ban books or relocate books and there is court precedent where you can’t do that.”
She continued, “First of all, we have the Miller Test that decides what’s obscene. ‘Harmful to minors’ is really confusing and I have no idea what that means. Down in Texas in Wichita Falls, they had the ruling where the town city council was going to try to decide what books go where. So, censorship has been going on for a long time. In Sund v the city of Wichita Falls (link at end of story), they were trying to get rid of ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ and ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ and they can’t do that. Back in the 1990s when I was in Fort Smith, Counts v. Cedarville High School, they tried to relocate Harry Potter books where kids couldn’t get to them and they (Cedarville High School) were told they can’t do that. So, relocating is the same as banning because they can’t find the books they are browsing. I have those laws that I have to follow and, until they change those laws, there’s nothing I can do. I’m between a rock and a hard place. They (Saline County Quorum Court) are telling me to relocate books that people don’t like, but I’ve got precedent that’s in the Western District of Arkansas that says I can’t do that.”
The new law adds new oversight for libraries, depending on the type of library. City libraries will report to the respective city council. In Saline County, the library will report to the quorum court.
We asked Hector if the library board still exists with the new law. “Yes,” she said, “but they (members) are put there by the county judge and the quorum court. So if we don’t do what the quorum court likes.”
“They kind of took them out of the equation with SB81.” Hector said. “It used to go to me to review and then you could go to the board. So, they took the boards out because every library is different. The new review committee is me, whoever they want, and then the quorum court. It takes it out of the people who understand libraries and it puts it into politicians’ hands. They’re elected. My board is not elected. I’m not elected. So, it politicized a process that shouldn’t be politicized.”
Does the library board still exist with the new law? “Yes,” said Hector, “but they are put there by the county judge and the quorum court. So, if we don’t do what the quorum court likes…”
Hector also feels board member selection will change. “In the past, the board has recommended people that are library users, that are interested in the library. So what Gonzalez and Sullivan said was that the library could ignore whatever the quorum court said about a book, but how do we ignore them, a body that appoints our board members. In other places, that’s how changes are made.”
Hector talked about contact with members of the quorum court and if any had made contact with her before and/or after the resolution was presented and passed.
“Here’s how this went down. Pat Bisbee has been our liaison for 20 years.”, she said. “Pat talked to me after the last (library) board meeting (April 12) and said this resolution was coming up. So then I tried to contact (Justice of the Peace) Jim Whitley. He was very hard to get hold of. He was out of town. So Pat had him finally call me. We talked about it and I think he was sincere in his wanting to protect children. He hadn’t been in to talk to the librarians. He hadn’t done any of that and he said that. He said, well we should have done more research. It’s obvious to me there’s more to this. But he didn’t say he was going to pull it. (Justices of the Peace) Keith Keck and Rick Bellinger came and looked around the library and talked to the library staff and said, ‘we just heard about this because it wasn’t in a committee meeting’. (Note: According to the meeting agenda posted April 13, the library resolution was listed under the ‘Add On’ section, following the ‘New Business’ category).
She continued, “They wanted to find out before Monday (April 17 Saline County Quorum Court meeting) before they were expected to vote on it. Keck said he would try to get me able to speak because if they pass a motion saying I can speak to them, that’s the only way I can talk to the quorum court, even though I’m a county employee. Nobody did that. Then during the meeting, they suggested it and they said, no, we don’t need to talk to the county librarian. I was there. I was in there early enough. I didn’t sign up for the three minutes because I thought I would have an actual discussion about it.”
Public comment speakers must sign up in advance in order to address the quorum court. Each speaker is limited to three minutes.
Additionally, on the day of April 17 prior to the quorum court meeting, Hector added, “I did talk to Pat (Bisbee) and (Saline County Judge) Matt Brumley came by to look at a book that was on a list that someone had sent him to check on. And I may have talked to him before, telling him what’s coming down the pipe because I knew that this was coming. One of my board members has emailed them and said she’s not happy with how library supporters were treated (at the April 17 quorum court meeting). They talked about decorum and then they let other people just tear down, in a personal way, the library staff that spoke.”
Hector then compared public comments to those seen online and in social media. “It’s been much, much worse online,” she said.
She spoke of how she thought operations at the library would be in the days before and those following the law going into effect.
“I’m telling you, I have the First Amendment, that’s the Constitution.”, she said. “I have to serve everybody in the community. I have to have books for everybody. I know they think they are age inappropriate, but one thirteen-year-old could read George R. R. Martin (Author of A Game of Thrones) and one eighteen-year-old couldn’t. It’s in the Adult section, it’s not in the Young Adult section. We buy books that are about that age group, by that age group. It’s not black and white and that’s what they want it to be, and it’s not. My staff are really good at their jobs. They’re experienced and they know the kids. They work with them and you can’t erase LGBTQ and people of color. I’m not going to let that happen.”
What do you say to people who think you are overreacting?
“Do they know anyone who is anything other than a white, heterosexual.”, she said. “Because this is, they (LGBTQ) are under attack all the time and I’m not personally any of those things. I’m not a person of color. I’m not gay or any of those things. But I have friends who are and this shouldn’t be happening. And it’s happening everywhere. They’re making laws. They’re trying to ban books. And it goes against my personal ethics, my feelings as a Christian, and my professional ethics.”
What do you say to people who say they are a Christian and you aren’t a Christian if you believe in anything other than a heterosexual couple?
“That’s their opinion. I have a different opinion.” Hector stated. “I read the Bible and I don’t see Jesus saying ‘Ban these people’. And I try not to bring my religion into my professional life. I try not to bring in that I’m a Democrat. Librarians really do have professional ethics. We buy books for people in the community. We don’t let our personal issues come into play.”
Hector then mirrored those thoughts toward the quorum court. “Why is the quorum court quoting the Bible?”, she asked. “The JPs are putting religion into a public institution. It just shouldn’t be there.”
We asked Hector to show where the six books in question that were brought before the quorum courts were located within the library. She responded, “Sure. We can show you where the books are located but I don’t think we can show you the books because they are still checked out. They check them out and then they don’t bring them back.” She continued, “It’s not sexual content (they are after). That’s the wedge that they use to get people inflamed about it. But they made comments at the meeting that they don’t want anything that’s anti-white, LGBTQ. They are very judgmental. I feel like their comments on their web page are very personal and hurtful.”
“I think it’s also important that we did not start those rumors about defunding the library. That was on the SCRW (Saline County Republican Women’s) Facebook page.”, Hector added.
Lapp spoke of her own experience. “There were comments made about people.”, she said. “We did not post anything online, but there were comments made and people were saying this is what the whole point is. Even things that were said in the first quorum court meeting were definitely questionable about what the intentions were.”
Hector reiterated, “The law says that relocating is the same as banning if people can’t find it.”
Lapp pointed to documentation on the Saline County Library website on this topic. “That’s mentioned in our Intellectual Freedom Policy as well. We can’t put a sticker on a book saying it covers this topic because then that’s also discriminating against as well.”
Lapp continued, “I’ve seen jokes that we’re going to have Playboy (magazine) next. No, that is judicially obscene and we can not have judicially obscene because we can’t even purchase judicially obscene. Our vendors do not have judicially obscene materials because it’s illegal.”
Hector added, “And when the court decides some book we have is harmful to minors or is obscene, I will take it off the shelves. But there are a thousand different opinions about which book is bad. If I take it off, someone will be mad. If I don’t take it off the shelf, they’re mad.
Lapp said the library has measures available to parents. “We do encourage our parents and guardians to be aware of what their children are checking out and they (parents) have full access to that, especially with our app now. It is available on your phone.”, she explained. “I can get my whole family and see what my kids and my husband have checked out. And so it’s not that we are keeping things a secret between the children and the parents. They have full access.”
Lapp reiterated that parental control over what a child may access at the county libraries is stronger than it was just a generation ago.
“When a child gets a card, on the back of it, the child and the parent have to sign it that says I (the parent) am responsible for everything on this card. The child and the parent must sign that.”
At the end of our interview, Hector reiterated, “The law says that relocating is the same as banning if people can’t find it.”
A chart showing when the original books in question have been checked out.
At present, there are 51,322 books downstairs in the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton where the children, teen and young adult books are located. Of those 821 are board books; 9,626 picture books; 3,315 easy readers; 11,852 chapter books; 1,195 children’s audio books; 5,250 Young Adult books; 289 Young Adult audiobooks; 18,974 adult fiction books. The downstairs area encompasses 32,000 sq.ft. of area.
Counts v. Cedarville School District