On Monday, April 17th, the Saline County Quorum Court voted 11:2 to pass a resolution that suggests the Saline County Library create policies to relocate materials that parents or the public deem inappropriate for children into areas that are not accessible to children. Several library employees along with library supporters attended the meeting. Many were unable to be in the room because of the large crowd in attendance. During the meeting, the Quorum Court discussed the purpose of the resolution and listened to 25 Saline County citizens, both opposing and approving of the resolution. Before making the vote, two Quorum Court members pointed out that they had not "done their due diligence" and talked to the Saline County Library about the policies already in place prior to the meeting.
With recent social media stories and interviews, the Saline County Library feels it is necessary to share some facts about library policies, procedures, and the collections.
On March 27, the Saline County Library Board held their regularly scheduled meeting at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library located in Benton. Members of the public also attended this meeting. Amendments to the library's current Reconsideration of Materials policy were presented for board approval. The proposed changes were submitted to ensure the library's policy was in alignment with Senate Bill 81, now Act 372, because SB81 was due to be read and voted on in the Arkansas Senate the following day, March 28. The library wanted to be proactive and ensure that due diligence was taken to adhere to the process outlined in Senate Bill 81, now Act 372. During this board meeting, it was also announced that both branches of the library would be closed during the week of April 10-15 to have the internal server rebuilt. This project had been in the planning stages for over a year, and the library received E-Rate funding to pay for a portion of the equipment necessary to undertake such an extensive project. The funds received had to be spent by July 1, 2023. During the server rebuild, all internet and phone services would be unavailable; therefore, patrons would not be able to checkout material, use the public computers, or utilize fax or printing services. Because summer is the library's busiest time of the year, the difficult decision was made to close April 10-15.
The Saline County library is dedicated to serving the citizens of Saline County. It is a tax-funded entity; therefore, library staff must do their due diligence and adhere to policies so that they act in accordance with the law. It is illegal to arbitrarily move materials without following correct policy because that is a violation of the First Amendment. It is the right of any library user to request that materials be reevaluated to determine if they should be relocated within the library. In the library's Collection Development Policy, one can find the Reconsideration of Materials policy that states, "Anyone is free to personally reject materials of which he or she does not approve; however, the choice of library materials for personal use is an individual matter. No one has the right to exercise censorship to restrict the freedom of use and or access of others. Any request for Any request for reconsideration of an item in the collection must follow the Library's procedure." Also under the Collection Development Policy, the Intellectual Freedom Policy states "A public institution committed to the principles of democracy and intellectual freedom, the Library recognizes its obligation to provide as wide a spectrum of materials as possible. Diverse points of view, including controversial and unorthodox subjects, are available in this collection. Inclusion in the collection does not imply Library endorsement of or agreement with the contents. Library materials are not marked or identified to show approval or disapproval of the contents, nor are materials sequestered except for the purpose of protecting them from damage or theft. No restrictions are placed on what anyone may read, view, or listen to. Selection of materials to include in the collection will not be made on the basis of any anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the material in relation to building the collection and to serving the needs and the interests of all users." During the information gathering stages and public input stages of the planning process for the 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, inclusion was one of the most requested things people wanted to see more of in the library.
Under the Library's Behavior Policy, the first code of personal conduct states that leaving children unattended in the library is unacceptable. The Unattended Child Policy states, "Children ages twelve (12) and younger should be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or caregiver at all times. Young children cannot be left alone in any area of the library while the adult browses other areas unless they are in a staff-supervised program and are of the appropriate age as described above." It also states children ages thirteen and older who come to the library without a parent, guardian, or caregiver can use the library appropriately for things such as homework, reading, or attending programs. Furthermore, when a child signs up for a library card, a responsible person, i.e. parent or legal guardian, must sign the back of the card and agree to the following statement: "I have approved this child's application for a library card and accept legal responsibility for its use. I agree to comply with all of the library rules and regulations. I will be responsible for all material borrowed on this card and give immediate notice of any change of contact information." The library is working on a way to provide parents and guardians with a resource to help them make informed decisions about library materials they may be unsure of.
In calendar year 2022, both branches of the Saline County Library had a total in library attendance of 10,973 for programming for ages 0-18. Library staff also visited a total of 8,163 people ages 0-18 at various outreach programs across Saline County. During the months of January through March 2023, total in library attendance at programs for ages 0-18 was 4,289, and the total for library staff visits to various outreach events was 3,350. This does not take into account the total number of visitors the library sees on a daily basis of people who simply come in to browse the shelves, play in the children's area or Nature Play Space, or utilize the computers.
Currently, the Saline County Library separates the Youth Services department into three distinct age categories: Children's for ages 0-7, Juvenile for ages 8-12, and Young Adult for ages 13-18. Between both locations, there is a total of 19,619 items in the Children's collection, 15,566 in the Juvenile collection, and 7,773 in the Young Adult collection. Out of the 3,801,985 items checked out from the Saline County Library in the last six years, the library has received zero Reconsideration of Materials requests.
For now, the library will continue to use the current selection criteria and policies in place to purchase materials for the library. When Act 372 goes into effect, the library will continue the process since the library does not purchase judicially obscene materials. If any patron has objections to the placement of materials, they may follow the procedures as stated in the Reconsideration of Materials policy. In order to adhere to the constitutionally granted right of the First Amendment, the library cannot remove or relocate books solely on views of an individual or group. Through the reconsideration process, an educated committee will review the material in question in its entirety to determine if any action should be taken which is also outlined in Act 372.
The purpose of a public library is to provide something for each citizen of the county. The library is an integral community resource for adults and children of all ages. Library staff are dedicated to providing help whenever possible and serving the community to the best of their abilities. The library is here to serve all residents of Saline County, and the staff strive to do just that.