Sunday, March 31, 2024

Director Of Regional Library System Briefs Oconee County Commission On Changes Made At Libraries In Response To Parental Requests

***New Category Within Young Adult Created***

The Athens Regional Library System has made two changes in response to community concerns about children’s use of library materials, Valerie Bell, Director of the Library System, said at the agenda-setting meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last week.

Existing policy is that children 10 and under are not allowed in the library unaccompanied by an adult or older sibling at least 16 years of age, Bell told the commissioners.

In response to requests from parents for “some guidance and some help as they choose materials for their children,” Bell said, the Library is taking two additional steps.

First, within the Young Adult category of books for those 11 to 18, a separate category is being created for those aged 11 to 14.

Space within the Young Adult section of the library will be designated for these children aged 11 to 14, and books for them will have a “Middle Age” label on the books’ spines.

Second, the Library System has created a Finding Guide to help parents find and evaluate books they judge appropriate for their children.

These initiatives already are in place at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville and two other libraries, she said, and will be available system wide–including at the Bogart Library–soon.

Importance Of Community

Bell’s presentation was the first item on the agenda at the April 26 agenda setting meeting of the Board.

Bell 3/26/2023

The entire meeting lasted a little more than 25 minutes, and Bell’s presentation and the discussion with the Board that followed took up nearly 20 minutes of that time.

Bell began her comments by telling the Commissioners that “we consider our libraries as vital parts of the community. We listen to the community, and what the community has to say is important to us.”

“Recently we have heard from our community,” she said, “that they would like for us to offer them some guidance and some help as they choose materials for their children,” she said.

“So I'll start out by saying that children 10 and under are not allowed in the library, by policy, without an adult–a caregiver--or an older sibling, 16 years old.”

“That child 10 and under should not be able to take home or pick out books that have not already been approved by someone that is older, a caregiver, or a parent,” she said.

Two-Pronged Approach

“Because we do understand the concerns that some of our residents have,” Bell continued, “we took a two-pronged approach to this.”

“The first thing that we're going to do is make a separate section,’ She said. “It's still in the Young Adult section of the library, but it will be in a separate area of the Young Adult Section.”

Books in this section “are going to be what we call Middle Grade books,” Bell said. These will be for children aged 11 to 14.

“Those books are clearly marked Middle Grade,” she said, with a label on the spine.

“So when and if a young adult child over the age of 10 comes into the library and picks out their books without their parent,” Bell continued, “their parent will be able to look at the book and see, if they want their children to read Middle Grade books, they'll be able to see easily and clearly and quickly what it is that their child has checked out of the library.”

Second Prong

“So that is the first prong of our change,” Bell said. “The second one is that we also have a Finding Map for parents that we're going to have available at all of our libraries.”

These already are available at the Oconee County Library in Wire Park, she said, as well as at the libraries in Oglethorpe and Madison counties. It will be available systemwide soon.

The Finding Guide or Finding Map is a small, folded flyer that Bell said will be be available at the library and will be reinforced by posters at the library.

These will give parents “another way to check what their child is reading, if what they're reading fits in with their own personal values as a family,” she said.

The flyer contains links to NoveList Plus, Common Sense Media, and Compass Book Ratings, all of which provide reviews of library materials.

“I hope that they (the two changes) are going to be welcome in the community,” Bell said. “I think that they are positive steps for us to take with the community, and that's what we're going to do.”

“All of us are members of the community,” she continued. “We believe that the library is a vital part of the community. We want to hear from our residents.”

Reconsideration Process

Bell next reviewed with the Board the Request for Reconsideration process the Library System uses to respond to citizen complaints about library materials.

“It's a rather lengthy process,” Bell said. “We take it all very seriously, including what the patrons have to say about the book.

Oconee County residents have filed 10 requests for reconsideration that have been considered by the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees since July of 2023.

At its meeting in January, the Board of Trustees voted to reject the request of four county residents that four books in the Oconee County Library be reclassified because of their content.

At the February Board of Commissioners meeting, two of the citizens who have filed requests, Suzannah Heimel and Victoria Cruz, said they were unhappy with the Board’s response to complaints about programming and content of the Oconee County Library.

Heimel is running as a Democrat–without party support–against Commissioner Mark Thomas for Post 2 on the November ballot, while Cruz is challenging Commissioner Mark Saxon for Post 4 in the May 21 Republican Primary.

Questions And Answers

Commissioner Chuck Horton said when Bell had concluded her comments that “so much that been said about the younger children. Do you have any idea how many children attempt to enter the library” unaccompanied?

Horton 3/26/2024

Bell said she did not have data, but most of the libraries in the system “are not really walkable for a young person.”

“I got to thinking,” Horton said, “how many of them actually are of that age of 11 that would be by themselves, looking through racks, anyway?”

“I can't imagine that it would be very many,” Bell said.

Watkinsville Branch Manager James Mitchell told Horton “I think maybe last year maybe two or three times total I had someone younger than that and I had to reach out to a parent to let them know the policy and come get the child. That's all.”

In response to Commissioner Saxon, Bell said children 10 and under can get a library card “but their parents have to sign for them. They can get a library card at at any age, from zero to you know 120 or whatever,” she said.

“It's really all about trying to give young people a love of literature and a love of books and the love of reading and lifelong learning,” Bell said.

In response to a question from Commissioner Thomas, Bell said “we can't say who can take out what book. We just don't know what their family values are. The parent is the one that knows what their family values are.”

Other Action

In other action, the Board tentatively approved spending $28,800 with Lux Mitigation and Planning Corporation from Ellijay to assist in an update for the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

C.J. Worden, EMA Director, told the Board the Mitigation Plan is a five-year plan that expires next year and that Lux Mitigation completed the plan update in 2018.

“This plan addresses natural and man-made hazards and some of the mitigation efforts that we can put forth in order to minimize the impact,” Worden said.

The Board also tentatively approved a request by county Finance Director Melissa Braswell to amendment the budget to provide $156,000 in additional funding for law enforcement equipment.

Included is $35,000 for replacement of computers, $61,000 for specialized gear for the Special Resources Team, and $60,000 for a HVAC monitoring system.

The Board also approved a budget amendment requested by Lisa Davol, Parks and Recreation Director, to spend $202,880 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax monies for professional engineering services for expansion of the tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park.

Davol said the engineering and design to be provided by W&A Engineering of Athens “not only includes the additional tennis courts, but also the court lighting, the conversion of the existing tennis courts lighting to LED lighting...restroom facilities, grading, drain, drainage, hardscapes, which will include all the parking parking lot lights and pathways.”

The new courts will be built between the Senior Center and the existing courts and “as well as on the other side between the pond and the tennis courts,” Davol said.

The Commission put all three of these spending items on the consent agenda for final approve at the meeting on April 2.


The video below is on the county’s YouTube Channel.

The meeting starts at 19:52 in the video.

Bell began her comments at 21:11 in the video.

Discussion of the harzard mitigation is at 40:21.

Discussion of the budget amendment for the public safety spending is at 42:07.

Discussion of the Oconee Veterans Park tennis courts is at 43:35.

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