Gillette librarians protest budget cuts

GILLETTE — A number of Gillette librarians voiced their concerns at a public meeting in light of a recent decision by the Campbell County Commissioners to eliminate the Optional 1-Percent Sales Tax funding that has annually been spent on children’s books and programs.

In May, the commissioners decided to cut $41,750 in 1-percent funding, in part because some of them believed the library hasn’t been transparent in the way it purchases new books and discards old ones.

Since July 2021, the library has been criticized for including books that deal with sex and LGBTQ+ issues in the teen and children’s sections.

Commissioner Bob Maul said he voted no on the 1-percent funding because the library wasn’t as prepared as it should have been in its proposed budget.

“It wasn’t because we don’t trust the library,” Maul said.

At the commissioners’ regular meeting June 7, library employees and supporters asked the board to reconsider its decision.

“Up until 11 months ago, we absolutely felt safe, supported and secure in our positions,” said youth services librarian Darcy Acord. “We no longer feel that way. We feel attacked, we feel unheard and we feel disrespected.”

Paula Andrie, the library’s reference services manager, said she feels distrusted and attacked “for working at a place that I absolutely love.”

“Decisions are being made based on inaccurate and incomplete information,” Andrie said. “While I would hope everyone would do research before presenting facts, this hasn’t always been the case.”

“I truly feel the library is being punished for protecting the right and freedom to read,” said Sara Kuhbacher-Rosier, a technical services specialist.

Elizabeth Albin, circulation services manager, said she’s discouraged to see the library be “defunded because of inaccurate and incomplete information.”

“As an American and Christian, I’m grieved by the actions of a few citizens and a few commissioners who claim the name of Christ yet do not show grace, love or respect for their fellow citizens,” she said.

Brandi Dixon said the cut will harm many children in the community who won’t get to participate in programs any more.

“Why should the concerns of a splinter group outweigh the needs of the whole community?” she asked. “The facts that have been released to the public have been twisted and spun to advance a personal agenda of a few.”

Linda Stewart said the commissioners’ decision possibly violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from encouraging or promoting religion.

And Stephen Albin presented some numbers he found during a search of the library’s online catalog. Among other topics, he found 650 results when he typed in “sex,” and 7,211 results when he searched “Christian.”

“In voting to defund the library to attack a small minority of dirty books, you’re in reality attacking a much larger majority of good books,” he said.

Kevin Bennett said this is besides the point.

“When you have 99 percent of truth and 1 percent of lie, it doesn’t matter that only 1 percent of the entire compound is a lie, it is still a lie,” he said.

Bennett said it’s the librarians who are pushing an agenda rife with disinformation, and that all that has been asked is to move “pornographic” books out of the children’s section.

“To use stories of their lives and emotions to push that is even more disturbing,” Bennett said.

Local pastor Ed Sisti said he and others have been “very careful to not bring religion into this.”

“It’s not religious, it’s common sense,” he said.

And his wife, Susan Sisti, said it’s not just the books she’s concerned about.

“Many of us are very alarmed at the library programs we’re seeing,” she said. “There’s now a movie night at a bar. I think there’s something at the ice cream shop.”

On June 29, the library is hosting a movie discussion at Big Lost Meadery. And on June 21, a book discussion will take place at the Ice Cream Cafe.

Sisti said the library needs to reduce the number of programs it puts on.

“We have way too many programs, we just need to cut back,” she said. “It’s like nonstop, if you notice what they’re doing there, they should by now have figured out what works for the community, stick with that, perfect the few programs they have.”

Sisti also raised concerns about the library’s new video lab, which can be reserved for four hours at a time. She worried that youth would use the lab to participate in questionable activities.

“Can children and teens check this out? What are they doing in the video room?” she asked. “Very concerned about that.”