Library officials oppose change

They testify against bill that would alter way board selected

Parents raised issue

March 14, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - Carroll library officials told a House committee yesterday that changing the way the county selects people to serve on the library's board of trustees would have a "chilling effect" on the community.

Linda Mielke, library director, said she feared the Carroll delegation's proposal to alter the pool of candidates would open the selection process and put people with narrow political and religious agendas on the board.

"We're looking for people who have a special interest in the Carroll County Public Library," Mielke told the Ways and Means Committee during a hearing on the bill yesterday afternoon. "I don't think we'll be appointing ourselves."

The delegation's proposal would allow the Carroll commissioners to "select a member of the board of library trustees from nominees submitted by the board ... or other sources."

The process by which library boards are chosen is outlined in state law. The library board interviews candidates and makes recommendations to the county commissioners, who appoint trustees to five-year terms.

Del. Joseph M. Getty, one of the bill's sponsors, urged the committee to approve the measure.

Getty, a Carroll Republican, said Carroll lawmakers realized the selection process was awry when library officials failed to contact the delegation or library patrons for prospective candidates after discussing the issue in the fall.

A small group of parents had complained that the voluntary board lacked diversity and was not representative of the community.

"None of us wanted to put this bill forward," said Getty, one of two residents who spoke in favor of the measure yesterday. "We thought our constituents would be contacted to help find appropriate candidates. There was no follow-up."

Mielke has maintained that the seven-member board is open to anyone who wants to apply. Library management and trustees are concerned about the wording "or other sources" in the bill because it would allow the commissioners to pick board members who had not been interviewed by the board.

Several library board members and library supporters spoke against the bill.

"It's our responsibility to support all the members of our community, not just the ones who read what I read, not just the ones who believe what I believe," said board member Peggy Jones. "We're a public library and we must uphold the law."

The bill was drafted after the North Carroll branch consolidated 31,581 adult and children's nonfiction books into the adult section in June. The interfiling system was meant to make room for children's fiction books in the children's section and to allow patrons to find information in a single place.

The change drew dozens of complaints, many from parents who were angry and concerned that their children were being exposed to books that some said contained "explicit sex, nudity and graphic violence and crime."

The library board shelved interfiling at its October meeting. But Donna Schott, the North Carroll library patron who mobilized a small group of Manchester-area parents to fight the policy, was stung by the "rude" and "cavalier" way she said she was treated by the library board.

She approached the county delegation about changing the way the board is appointed.

"We're not interested in censorship," Schott told the committee yesterday. "We would just like to see a more homogeneous board."

Several committee members expressed concerns about how changing Carroll's law would affect other counties.

"This is setting a precedent for a different way of doing things," said Del. Anne Healey, committee vice chairwoman and a Prince George's Democrat.

The committee is expected to vote on the bill this week.

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