OZARK — Changes to some policies approved by the Ozark-Dale County Public Library Board Wednesday will increase the responsibility of parents to monitor their child’s use of the library.

The ODCL closed to the public Thursday and Friday to enable staff time to catalogue and label books in the young adult’s and children’s sections to comply with the new policies that change age requirements for minors using the library unattended and that more clearly define parental responsibility for books those minors check out.

At issue is the age-appropriate placement of some books in the young adult section of the library that became a topic of social media discussion when Ozark Mayor Mark Blankenship took to social media earlier in the month to urge people to call on elected officials to defund the library over LGBTQ materials.

“We can’t be parents to everyone else’s children,” said ODCL Board Vice Chairman Mike Cairns Wednesday. “You have to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, good and bad,” he said to those attending the board meeting. “We can’t watch them all the time, and it is sad that we had to change our policies to make parents understand that they are ultimately responsible for what their kids do even when they are not around.

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“Since this began, we have had several prominent members of the community saying that the board hasn’t been doing their job and that we don’t care about helping children,” Cairns added. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Under the new policies, current library cards in the names of minors will be blocked from checking out materials until a parent or legal guardian comes to the library to fill out and sign the new Minors Library Card Application which asks parents to decide which section that their minor child may go to check out books. The check-out system can now block unwanted content from being distributed to children who are not allowed to view certain content. If the child tries to check out a book in a prohibited section, the system will deny the checkout. All books in the young adult section will have a sticker on the spine of it showing the appropriate age that the author or publisher authorizes.

Those aged 14 and older may visit the library unattended but all children aged 13 or younger must be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or childcare provider 19 years or older. A parent, guardian, or childcare provider aged 19 years or older must remain in the library during any children’s programs. A child cannot be dropped off and left alone during the program.

Library Board Chairman Liz Delaney said the Unattended Child policy had been lowered to 10 years old during the COVID Pandemic so internet would be available for those who did not have access to it.

The new policies are available for viewing at the Ozark-Dale County Public Library website. “Although these cards limit your child’s choices in checking out materials, parents are encouraged to monitor their own child’s use of the library. The library cannot act in loco parentis, meaning it is neither our responsibility nor are we equipped to provide long- or short-term supervision for children of any age. Parents are encouraged to monitor their own child’s use of the library,” said a notice on the website.

“My main concern has been our library staff,” said library board chairman Elizabeth Delaney. “They have done a wonderful job, as they always do. They have kept the library running smoothly.”

The board also approved the qualification of a three-person autonomous and unnamed volunteer committee appointed to a one-year term to review reconsideration requests in the library. “They will read the books; they will determine whether or not it can stay where it is or for it to be moved to another section,” said Delaney. The committee is deliberately unnamed, and names were redacted on the sheet citing their qualifications that the board approved.

Gene Lynn

Gene Lynn

“It is healthy to have different views so we can so we can all learn from each other,” said board member Monica Carroll. “Without the process (to object to books) in place, we don’t know how you feel because we do not have the staff to read every book that comes into the library,” she said. “Our process is very fair.”

Citizen Gene Lynn commended the board for their handling of the issue but noted that there is no person of color on the board. “I am available to serve,” he told the board comprised of women and one man.

“You have done nothing wrong. You cannot respond to bigots and bullies,” he said referring to the social media storm that ensued after the Ozark mayor took to social media to urge citizens to ask their city council and county commission to defund the library is some books were not removed. “They have an agenda. There is no end.”

Board member Christina Faulkner told Lynn that the policy changes approved were to protect the librarians. “We are putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the parents,” she said. “We are just reaffirming that it is the parent’s responsibility.”

After the board unanimously agreed to the enhanced policies, Pastor Jim Hill thanked the board for their diligence in addressing the issue of age-appropriate cataloguing. “You have done a fabulous job,” he said.

“Today is a good day for our library and now we can all go forward with a clear system in place to allow parents to have accurate information and choices about what their children read,” said Dale County Commissioner Adam Enfinger who had filed the first official complaint about the content of two books in the young adult section. “All I have ever wanted was for parents to be able to allow their children to check out books without fear of exposing them to objectionable material. The actions of the library board have now made that a reality and have given parents the tools they need to protect their children from mature content if they want to do so.”

“We have a lot of strong supporters of the library,” said longtime board member Dr. Imogene Mixson. “Whatever challenges we have on any given day I hope we can address in the most positive way possible so that we can continue to have this library as a wonderful resource for all of Ozark and all of Dale County.

“As a public library we serve everybody and offer opportunity for everybody,” Mixson said. “That’s who we are as a public library.”