Commenters weigh in on subscription controversy at library board meeting

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Attendees listen as Ray Mitchem, second from front, speaks during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting of the Marshalltown Public Library’s Board of Trustees.

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Marshalltown Public Library’s Board of Trustees was one of the most well-attended in recent memory as about 10 members of the public were on hand, and several spoke out either for or against the board’s decision not to subscribe to a pair of conservative publications, The Epoch Times and American Rifleman Magazine.

The request from patron John Worden originally came before the board at its December meeting, and the trustees voted unanimously against subscribing based on the library staff’s recommendation. MPL Director Sarah Rosenblum cited “serious concerns” with the science coverage in The Epoch Times, a newspaper affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement, a general reduction in the periodical budget over the years and the availability of other firearms related publications similar to American Rifleman.

Worden reiterated his frustration with the board’s decision during last month’s meeting, and on Tuesday, individuals both supportive and critical of the board took the chance to make their comments heard.

The first remarks came from City Councilor Gary Thompson, who asked for a point of clarification on which items the public was and wasn’t allowed to comment on, and the next speaker, Friends of the Marshalltown Public Library Board President Jeff Hutton, offered his “wholehearted support” for the Board of Trustees and its actions.

“I understand how difficult it is to make those decisions about what you can and cannot bring in, and I trust the board with those decisions over the course of the past several years and in the future,” Hutton said. “They look to provide a lot of different opportunities and offerings for the public, so as a member of the Friends board, I think I can speak on behalf of the whole board and say we wholeheartedly support the public library board and the work that you do.”

Worden was up next and asked that public comment be allowed both at the beginning and end of meetings so that patrons could react to actions taken or discussions that occurred during business items, and he said he knew members of the Friends of the Library Association who were not happy with the actions of the Board of Trustees.

Ray Mitchem, who also attended last month’s meeting, asked that the board rethink its previous decision and consider the Constitutional principle of freedom of speech.

“Something’s not quite right when we feel like we can’t offer the public a different slant on something,” Mitchem said. “As board members, I hope you rethink (this). Why aren’t we allowing our own patrons, as John said, to make those decisions? I’m not quite sure how you can accept the fact that that goes along with our freedom of speech and our national Constitution.”

First Ward City Councilor Mike Ladehoff said he planned to attend more meetings in the future and expressed his appreciation for the library board.

“Very seldom do I ever hear a complaint about the library, and that’s because of the good work of our librarian and of the board, so thank you very much and I’ll probably be coming more often,” he said.

David Bursley told the board he had been in communication with Worden and had previously offered to purchase a subscription to The Epoch Times himself before Worden’s request but was denied. The final commenter, Jerry Stevens, offered his support for the board and the library in general.

“I know the past few months have certainly been different than what you’re used to, but I do want to let you know that as a citizen of Marshalltown and Marshall County, that I thank you for your dedication in providing timely, accurate and useful information to the community,” Stevens said. “And I certainly hope you continue that.”

The controversy came back up during new business when the board acknowledged Worden’s patron statement of concern, which alleges the board has “chosen to disregard the library mission statement policy, collection development policy and freedom to read policy” by refusing to subscribe to the aforementioned publications.

“Therefore, the no vote should be disregarded as well. Adhering to policy should guarantee a yes vote,” the statement concluded.

Board President Tonya Gaffney reminded the trustees that they had already voted on the matter in December, and Rosenblum did not feel the staff or the board had disregarded library policy in making the decision.

“We are a small library. We have a small budget, and I’m very proud of the work we do in selecting materials for the library,” Rosenblum said.

Worden spoke up and argued that he should be allowed to comment on his own statement of concern, citing a policy on the library website, but Gaffney denied his request and moved to the next item of business, a staffing update.

In other business, the board:

Approved the new public comment policy with the addition of a 30-minute limit for the public comment period at the beginning of meetings.

Heard an update on the status of the Bookmobile or MOBI, which is currently being housed with the Public Works Department until it is fully operational.

Discussed the potential ramifications of a bill in the state legislature that could impact library levies.

Reported the official hiring of Jackie Vega as a full-time Library Assistant IV.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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