Davis school board meeting gets lively over book acquisition question

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:55 PM

Dana Rimington

FARMINGTON — Brought to the attention of the Davis school board recently was a formal outline of its library media center policies, but what was meant to be an innocuous presentation to get suggestions from the board turned into an intense exchange of opinions on how books are acquired.

For a district that is still reeling from the aftermath of a lawsuit brought on earlier this year regarding a book that came into question, it was clear the board wanted to make sure the situation didn’t repeat itself.

At the forefront of the exchange was how books should be chosen for each school’s library. Board member Peter Cannon wanted to know why parents weren’t included on the advisory committee.

“I would like to see parents involved in that process. I hear all the time that we just can’t let parents run the show,” said Cannon.

Under the current library media policies, selection of library resources is done by the library professionals at each school. For the upcoming school year, the district has purchased 70,000 titles for the schools’ library media centers.

Several board members disagreed with Cannon’s statements, saying that parents don’t need to be on the committee because teachers and district professionals are already concerned with the books students are reading.

District Assistant Curriculum Director Belinda Kuck, who was presenting the formal policy at the meeting, responded saying, “We value and want the input of parents, but in our experience, parents only want books their kids want to read, but our librarian has a wide-angle view of all of the students and their different interests and can make very wise decisions.”

Cannon agreed to that in part, saying, “No one is better informed than the school librarian, but just because they have that knowledge, shouldn’t be the final decision.” Cannon suggested the board have the final approval of books.

The board had to be reminded by the district’s legal issues specialist, Michelle Beus, that the board could not make any changes to the policy, which is governed by district administration. According to the policy, the board can review concerns, but can’t vote on books.

In January, the Davis School District agreed not to pull a book about lesbian mothers from its shelves again as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The district agreed to pay the ACLU $15,000 for attorney fees, but the settlement was not an admission of guilt.

The ACLU sued after the district put “In Our Mothers’ House” behind library counters in elementary schools and required parent’s permission to check it out. It is a children’s picture book featuring three adopted children with lesbian mothers.

At the recent school board meeting, another debated item brought up was how libraries weed their books, such as getting rid of books that are in poor physical condition, books that have dated or inaccurate information, or books that are checked out infrequently.

Several board members were concerned to hear that libraries throw away books. Superintendent W. Bryan Bowles, who has worked with the media centers in the past, said, “I know it doesn’t feel intuitive to throw away books, but it improves the health of the library and our librarians are instructed on how to do that.”

Kuck supported Bowles’ sentiments, saying, “Kids are attracted to new books and books that look good, and some books will sit (without getting checked out) unless you promote it, but with only 15 minutes a week with each class, you don’t have time to promote all those books. If you weed well, books will fly off the shelves.”

Board members also wanted to know how many times a parent challenges a book. Kuck said there are hundreds of challenges every year, but are generally resolved between the librarian and the parent.

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