November 17, 2023

HEPL board ends controversial review policy, will return books to teen section

Hamilton East Public Library board member Tiffanie Ditlevson announced she will resign from the board on Dec. 31. Ditlevson, shown here during an August 2023 board meeting, won an at-large seat on the Fishers City Council in the November election. - Aric Hartvig / WFYI

Hamilton East Public Library board member Tiffanie Ditlevson announced she will resign from the board on Dec. 31. Ditlevson, shown here during an August 2023 board meeting, won an at-large seat on the Fishers City Council in the November election.

Aric Hartvig / WFYI

The Hamilton East Public Library board voted Thursday to end a policy that has attracted widespread criticism and thrust the suburban library system into a heated national debate.

The board voted 5 to 1 to delete the portion of their collection development policy that barred books that contain drug and alcohol use, sex, violence and repeated profanity from its youth sections.

Conservative Micah Beckwith, who championed the policy, was the sole board member to vote against ending it. Board president Tiffanie Ditlevson, also a conservative who voted in favor of the policy, abstained. She later announced her resignation from the board, effective Dec. 31.

The controversial policy was initially approved by the board’s conservative majority in December 2022. In the months that followed, nearly 2,000 titles were relocated from the teen section to the library’s general collection, including Hoosier author John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska,” along with other award-winning YA novels. The board opted to pause the policy in August after receiving criticism from Green and many others.

Board member Michelle Payne presented a plan to update the collection development policy that included the results of a community survey that received more than 3,100 responses. The results showed a significant lack of support for the policy and dissatisfaction with the HEPL board.

“The public has spoken on this topic – many times and in multiple formats. The majority of public comments this board has heard at meetings plus the majority of emails we have received during the past year have indicated that patrons do not support the policy,” Payne wrote in the plan.

She also noted that the board spent $20,000 on legal counsel to help craft the controversial policy.

During the board meeting, Ditlevson expressed concern that the survey wasn’t representative of the community.

“Just know that we're not listening to some people. And that's the feedback that I get overwhelmingly, is that we're not listening to everybody,” said Ditlevson, who earlier this month won an at-large seat on the Fishers City Council in the general election.

Beckwith questioned what “guardrails” would be used with regard to the library’s children and teen collection.

Outgoing library director Edra Waterman explained that library staff take into account a variety of factors when determining where to place books in their collection. She said not every book in the library is suitable for every reader.

“I think that the piece that's missing there is that community standards are not what Micah Beckwith thinks,” Waterman said. “Community standards are broad. And what we as librarians do, is we look at the universe of things that are available, we look at our community, and we build a collection that we feel has materials that represent the breadth of points of view, the breadth of ideas for everyone in our community.”

With the policy now ended, Waterman said a majority of the books that were removed will be returned to the teen section. Waterman, who served as director of HEPL for 12 years and is leaving the role next month, announced that she accepted a position as the director of the Anderson Public Library.

Two of the board members who approved the policy have since been replaced. Former board member Laura Alerding was removed from her seat by the Noblesville school board. She was replaced by Noblesville High School teacher Bill Kenley.

Ray Maddalone, who voted in favor of the policy, resigned in October after the state's public access counselor wrote in an advisory opinion that he and Alerding violated the Open Door Law. Noblesville author Susan Crandall was selected by the Hamilton County Commission to replace Maddalone.

Resignations

Several board members also expressed frustration with Ditlevson, who issued a statement earlier the week announcing Waterman’s resignation.

Waterman had requested the board wait to release a statement until she made the announcement during their meeting.

Ditlevson said she wanted to get ahead of the media, and that she didn’t want the public to think the board was forcing Waterman to leave her position.

Two board members said they told Ditlevson not to release the statement.

Waterman said she was disappointed by Ditlevson’s actions.

“I feel like I made a reasonable request for a very good reason. And I'm disappointed that it did not was not fulfilled,” Waterman said.

Ditlevson announced her resignation after Payne suggested they remove her from her role as president of the board. The board voted to install Siebe as president and Ditlevson as vice president.

Contact WFYI education reporter Lee V. Gaines at lgaines@wfyi.org.

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