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Alaskans raise funds for library amid cries of censorship

·4 min read

KENAI, Alaska (AP) — An impromptu fundraiser to allow an Alaska library to purchase books amid cries of censorship has twice surpassed its goal.

The fund was established after the Kenai City Council delayed accepting a grant until the library director provide a list of the books that would be purchased with the money.

The council voted Oct. 20 to postpone action that would have accepted a grant to buy library materials related to health and wellness, including mental health, suicide prevention, self-care and reference books about Medicare and Medicaid, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

The council asked Kenai Community Library Director Katja Wolfe to provide an inventory of proposed purchases to be funded by the Collection Equity Award grant, from Region 5 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine. Some council members voiced concerns about the request, with one saying it could be viewed as censorship and another calling it a “slippery slope.”

Two Kenai Peninsula residents, Sovala Kisena and Todd Smith, organized the crowdsourcing page to both raise funds for the library and act as a positive response to the council’s action.

“It’s the definition of censorship … and it bothered me,” Smith said.

The goal was $1,500, which would match the amount of the grant. They hit that in three hours. They upped the goal to $5,000, which was also surpassed. The account stood at $6,752 as of Wednesday morning.

“It’s good to see the community come together on a topic that’s important,” Kisena said.

Before the council voted to postpone action at the Oct. 20 meeting, one resident questioned whether any of the books that would be purchased would be about the coronavirus, the Clarion reported at the time.

“Are there any COVID titles?” asked Sharon Efta, of Kenai.

Wolfe replied she didn’t have a complete list of titles yet, but what she did have didn’t include any COVID-19 titles.

“I think it’s irresponsible to just blanket rubber stamp something that you don’t know anything about,” Efta then told council members.

Dave Peck of Kenai said he took particular issue with the term “equity,” used in the name of the award and asked if the grant would be “enhancing some sort of a federal agenda … which would not necessarily represent the views of the people of Kenai.”

“I think equity can create division,” Peck said.

Council member Teea Winger said she was concerned about the funding of the grant, and member Jim Glendenning asked whether they could postpone accepting the grant until the council could see an inventory of the proposed purchases.

Wolfe said the final grant report was due by May, but she had hoped to purchase books by the end of November.

Multiple people voiced concerns about the council waiting for a list of books before voting on the grant.

Council member Henry Knackstedt called the move a “slippery slope,” adding what titles would be purchased was not pertinent to him.

Council member Glenese Pettey said it’s important that resources available in the library are not censored.

“Making sure that we have books that represent different points of view in our library and not censoring information and protecting our freedom of speech and freedom of access is highly important,” Pettey said.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said the library received $59,000 last year to buy books at its discretion, and Wolfe consistently looks for ways to make more books available to residents.

“I wanted you to know that there’s already every year over $60,000 worth of books that she purchases,” Ostrander said. “And I do think that looking at each one of those title by title and determining which are not appropriate is a very slippery slope that we need to be careful of.”

New council members elected in October will be seated at the Nov. 3 meeting, meaning the measure would have to be reintroduced, Kenai Deputy Clerk Meghan Thibodeau said.

Any funds raised through the crowdsourcing site will be given to the Friends of the Kenai Community Library, which can then donate the money to the library. Ostrander said the council will still need to approve the transfer of funds to the library.

Among those who donated were Ostrander, Pettey, Knackstedt, Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

The Associated Press

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