Library board denies subscription requests
A controversy that had been brewing over the last few months reached a head on Tuesday night as the Marshalltown Public Library Board of Trustees unanimously rejected a request from patron John Worden to subscribe to a pair of publications, American Rifleman magazine and The Epoch Times newspaper.
On the board’s agenda, an item titled “Response to patron’s statement of concern” kicked off the discussion, and MPL Director Sarah Rosenblum said she had recommended that the board vote against subscribing to the publications based on staff recommendations, a “deep dive” into each publication and consultation with the Iowa Library Office.
According to Rosenblum, there are currently no libraries in Iowa with subscriptions to American Rifleman, a monthly magazine published by the National Rifle Association (NRA), or The Epoch Times, a conservative newspaper affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement.
As a result of the deep dive, Rosenblum said there were “serious concerns” about the science coverage in The Epoch Times, and she also noted that the MPL has greatly scaled back its newspaper and periodical subscriptions over the last decade plus, from spending nearly $12,000 annually to about half of that now.
Currently, the MPL subscribes to only four newspapers: the Times-Republican, The Des Moines Register, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. In discussing American Rifleman, Rosenblum said the library would have to join the NRA to get the magazine and added that the MPL has several other firearm-related magazines available digitally along with books about guns from past wars all the way up to the present.
As Board President Tonya Gaffney attempted to bring the item to a vote, Worden interjected and asked why he wasn’t allowed to comment and “correct some misconceptions” he had just heard. Gaffney responded that all of the board members had read his letter of concern and listened to his public comment at the previous month’s meeting, which is limited to three minutes for anyone who wishes to speak.
“It’s not enough time. It’s still not enough time,” Worden said. “You’ve insulated yourself very well from the public. You don’t like to hear the feedback.”
Nonetheless, Gaffney moved forward and asked for a motion, which was made and seconded. The board then voted unanimously to accept the library staff’s recommendation not to purchase subscriptions to either publication.
During the public comment period, Worden utilized his three minutes to criticize the decision and reiterate his calls for the board to reconsider.
“It was intended to help the patrons of this library, not patrons from other libraries or other associations or other groups here, there or wherever. It wasn’t intended to impress the staff or the board. It was intended for the patrons,” he said.
He added that American Rifleman is 100 years old and “unlike any other magazine,” referring favorably to its coverage of gun-related legislative issues. He then cited a recent vote in Iowa to add language enshrining the right to keep and bear arms into the state’s Constitution.
“This magazine would provide everyone information that would be of benefit to them,” Worden said. “A magazine is not like a book. A magazine is new every month. It’s a completely new publication every month. It’s timely, it’s up to date and it’s subscribed to and read by millions of people.”
From there, he addressed The Epoch Times and specifically responded to the criticism of its science coverage, arguing that most if not all media outlets have made mistakes reporting on COVID-19 — which Worden called “The Communist Virus” — and said the information has been “all over the map.”
“Who’s to say what is accurate and what isn’t? It’s still being hashed over, and inaccuracies are still popping up. That doesn’t negate the newspaper,” he said. “It’s a worthwhile newspaper, I believe, and I just think that the staff and this board is inserting themselves between the patrons and the material. The patrons own this building and everything that’s in it. They pay the wages and the salary here. They come first.”
In conclusion, Worden said he had spoken about the issue at recent Marshall County Board of Supervisors meetings and repeated his call for the entire board and Rosenblum to resign.
At-large Marshalltown City Councilor Gary Thompson also attended the meeting and spoke during the public comment period, addressing requests for capital improvement project dollars, encouraging board members and Rosenblum to provide periodic reports at council meetings and then weighing in on Worden’s request.
He implored the board not to “twist information,” adding that he had read The Epoch Times and didn’t find it much different than any other newspaper.
“You guys allow your patrons to use the Internet. They’re gonna find misinformation, pros and cons on everything. I think you guys made a big mistake,” Thompson said.
When reached for additional comment, Worden said he plans to attend and speak at more meetings as the library’s budget is formulated for the coming year, and he disputed Rosenblum’s assertion that an NRA membership was necessary to subscribe to American Rifleman. He also cast doubt on the notion that his letter of concern had been read by all of the board members and wondered why more of them didn’t speak during the meeting.
“I believe the bigger picture in all this is that the funding public should be aware of public boards that are not performing unbiased due diligence,” Worden said. “Those that appoint boards should be held accountable as well.”
Worden added that he is “seriously considering” purchasing the subscriptions himself if the MPL will display them on their periodical shelf.
Contact Robert Maharry
at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or