The North Shelby Library District is unique among library boards in the state as a public corporation with board members directly accountable to citizens through elections.
The Shelby County Legislative Delegation has filed a bill to change that and implement a different unique proposition: take the appointment of the board in their own hands. The three members of the delegation are all Republicans: Rep. Arnold Mooney, Rep. Susan Dubose and Sen. Jim Cairns.
The delegation said in a statement Monday morning that House Bill 89 would make the election of the board “consistent with the election of public library boards statewide,” but then immediately notes how the new process would differ from most library boards.
“Public library boards statewide are elected by the county or city elected officials in which the libraries operate,”the delegation said in its statement. “The NSL does not operate under the authority of a county or a city government. HB 89 provides for the NSL board to be elected by the Shelby County legislators who represent the geographic area of the NSL District.”
DuBose has had a public spat with the board, at the same time Dubose has trumpeted her concerns about gay children’s books statewide.
At a meeting in which the board voted to keep a display of LGBTQ+ children’s books, Dubose characterized the board’s unique situation as a lack of accountability despite the board members being elected.
“This particular library board has complete authority over the library,” DuBose told a far-right outlet. “They do not report to anybody else … They make all the policies, the expenditures and the hiring decisions for that library … Unfortunately, the vote … simply to allow the board to vote whether they thought a display or a program was age-inappropriate … was voted down.”
Marsha Sturdevant, chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party, said she also remembered hearing DuBose say something akin to “she could take the board down.”
In their joint statement, the trio of Shelby County legislators say there has not actually been an election held to choose board members since 1998. Sturdevant explained to APR that, for years, no election has been hold because only enough people qualified to fill the board. Similar to an at-large town council, all candidates are competing for five spots instead of in individual districts.
Mooney told APR on the phone that the bill is being brought about in response to its constituents, despite the fact that the board is up for election once again in September and constituents would have the power to make their voices heard on the board directly.
The North Shelby Library District has combatted what it has called “misinformation” from DuBose. But sources tell APR the board and director can’t comment directly on the legislation due to the library district’s status as a 501(c)3. That leaves the board unable to combat a bill that directly affects them.
The way the legislation is written, the three-person delegation would be able to “elect” new board members beginning on June 1, and existing board members would serve “until the new members are elected pursuant to this act.” With new members to serve immediately upon election, the bill is designed in such a way that the delegation can boot all five current board members immediately on June 1 or any day after, kicking out the current members up to four months prior to the set election date.
While DuBose has harshly criticized the library board, the board has responded directly to her comments.
“One of the frequent comments states that the ‘community’ came to the NSL June board meeting to request the pride display be removed from the Children’s Department,” the board said in its statement. “There were many members of the community at the meeting, but there was no ‘community’ consensus on the display. The sentiments of those present were divided regarding the display. In fact, more people signed up to speak in favor of keeping the display than in favor of removing it.
“Of the more than 8,600 people who visited the library in June, only about 1 percent expressed an opinion about the display. The library received 76 supportive written comments and 39 negative written comments. Additionally, the number of visitors to the library in June 2023 increased by more than 3,000 from the previous year and the Summer Reading Program registration and attendance also increased over the previous year.”
The board also addressed comments that “the board would not consider or address requests to remove the display in the Children’s Department.”
“This is false,” the board stated. “The Board DID consider the motion made to change library policy. This change would have included the requirement for the Board to review (program), display, or exhibit that takes place at the library. The board voted to keep the existing library policies.”
Dubose has also referred to the display as “huge.” The NSL board gave its exact measurements.
“The display was a set of bookshelves in the Children’s Department which were approximately 4’ x 6’ with an 8.5” x 11” sign that said ‘Take Pride in Reading.’ She also stated that every book on the shelves contained transgender subject matter, which is also false,” the board said.
The board also took issue with public statements that librarians are working to indoctrinate children, which have been said about numerous public libraries across the state in recent months.
“Other recent public statements that accuse librarians of indoctrinating children are simply untrue and unfounded,” the board said. “A statement made by Representative Dubose on a recent radio interview referred to a library in her district where she said she would be “afraid to ask a librarian to help her child find a book” or let her child run loose. The NSL Board agrees with the last portion of her statement because it would be against the NSL Unattended Child policy to let a child ‘run loose.’ Parents and/or legal guardians are always fully responsible for their minor children/charges and are expected to always comply with library policies.”