The adoption of the Temple Public Library’s new media display policy was preceded by 10 months of heated discussion, but the library board needed just 20 seconds of silence Monday before approving the policy.
Without discussion, the board voted 7-0 to approve the policy that resulted from controversy surrounding last summer’s LGBT-themed displays. Board members Joyce Adams and Evelyn Cockrell were absent.
“I hope this is going to relieve (residents’) concerns and maybe they’ll feel comforted that there are some guidelines,” Library Director Leigh Gardner said following the board’s quarterly meeting. “I hope the fact that we’ve made a policy shows we are being sensitive to the comments we have received.”
The issue began last June when the library posted two displays highlighting LGBT-themed material as part of the American Library Association’s LGBT book month.
A bulletin board was decorated with rainbows and a flyer titled “Be inspired: Celebrate pride month.” A table near the children’s desk included lists of LGBT-themed books that were divided into different age groups with some books displayed on the table.
City Manager Brynn Myers said no one complained to City Hall about the displays while they were up. However, the controversy began to simmer two months later when a local group, Concerned Christian Citizens, took to Facebook to criticize the displays. In the Aug. 5 post, the group said the library crossed a line “by taking a position on a moral issue.”
The divisiveness gained steam at the library board’s October meeting, when a handful of residents on both sides of the issue spoke out. It then boiled over in January during a 2½-hour public comment section that saw more than 40 residents passionately share their opinions.
On Monday, a dozen residents spoke before the board adopted the new policy, which is intended to “guide librarians and to inform the public about the principles upon which display themes and materials are chosen.”
The policy states that library displays are used to highlight materials and educate the public on a range of topics. It lists criteria that will be considered when selecting displays, guidelines for displays and a new approval process.
Content should “represent the wide variety of viewpoints offered in collections” and displays should not “promote a specific religion, political party or cause.” Displays must be approved by the library director.
The policy also allows residents to request material be reconsidered if they deem it to be inappropriate.
“If a citizen has a concern about a library display and they want it reconsidered, they would submit that in writing and the library director would put together a committee to review that and respond to the person,” Myers said. “I think that’s healthy for a display that may be controversial in nature to have a committee reviewing it instead of just my opinion or your opinion.”
Critics of the LGBT displays argued that they didn’t present both sides of the issue, but Myers said the new policy should create balance.
“It really depends on what the topic of the display might be in terms of what librarians may choose to pull in, but the guideline is intended to encourage them to not focus on one aspect of the conversation, but multiple viewpoints,” Myers said.
Myers said she never saw last year’s display, so she didn’t know if it would fit under the new guidelines. Gardner, however, said the displays likely would not have been accepted under the new policy.
“We would have to look at it with these guidelines in place and see if it meets all those guidelines. It’s hard to say. It would probably not be repeated in its same form,” she said.
Residents will have to wait until June to see if an LGBT-themed display manifests under the new policy.
“We haven’t even thought about that,” Gardner said. “June is a couple months away, so we haven’t discussed what kind of displays we’re going to do in June.”
She claimed last year’s display was purely informational.
“We weren’t doing a display that was promoting anything. We were just letting people know about our resources,” Gardner said.
Local pastor Brandon Hall, who challenged state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, earlier this year for the Texas House District 55 seat, disagreed.
“My impression was that it was an endorsement of the LGBT community and lifestyle, especially given the time it was put out coinciding with Gay Pride Month,” Hall said.
He added that the implementation of the new policy seemed rushed. According to Gardner, the board received a draft of the policy just before Monday’s meeting.
“I think one of the problems we have was that the library board just received it and didn’t have time to digest it,” Hall said.
He also believes the new policy is somewhat ambiguous.
“Although this is better, I don’t think it’s specific enough for anybody,” Hall said. “I think it’s too vague for there to be any real understanding or guidelines on what displays should be going forward.”
Resident Tracy McLoud, who has been outspoken in favor of the displays, also thought the new policy was vague.
“There is some language in there that can be open to interpretation based on someone’s views, but overall, I’m pleased with it,” McLoud said.
She is concerned about the guideline that states “displays should not promote a specific religion, political party or cause.”
“Depending on your viewpoint and what you think is a cause or not is one of the things I think could be confusing,” McLoud said.
The new policy went into effect immediately.