Residents ask library board to change course, accept subscriptions to conservative publications

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Marshall County Republicans Co-Chair David Engel, standing, addressed the Marshalltown Public Library Board of Trustees with a copy of Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book” in hand to make the case that the library should accept subscriptions to two conservative publications, The Epoch Times and American Rifleman magazine, during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting.

An ongoing controversy dating back over a year now bubbled up again on Tuesday night as about 25 patrons attended the Marshalltown Public Library Board of Trustees meeting, most of them asking the board to reconsider its previous decision not to subscribe to two conservative publications, The Epoch Times newspaper and American Rifleman magazine.

After the Marshall County Republicans sent out an email urging their members to attend the meeting and advocate for the inclusion of conservative publications in the library, a total of 10 speakers signed up to make their voices heard during the public comment period at the end of the regular agenda. The first, Marshall County Republicans Co-Chair Dave Engel, told the board the library was one of the best in the state but felt that readers should be exposed to a wide variety of opinions, including those expressed in The Epoch Times and American Rifleman.

Engel read a passage aloud from “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean in making his case.

“Humankind persists in having the desire to create public places where books and ideas are shared,” it reads.

He also cited a UNESCO public library manifesto from 1949 — “The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of the right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society (for) open debate and creation of public opinion.”

When he was a professor at MCC, Engel said he encouraged his students to seek out all points of view, and he wasn’t sure how they could do so without all of them being freely available. Steve Licke spoke next and endorsed adding the two publications to the shelves, noting that sponsors have offered to pay for both so that the library would not incur any costs.

Mark Steinberg, a retired community college administrator and process improvement specialist, hoped for a compromise and a solution that would contribute to the betterment of the community. Tom Weber thanked the board for its hard work and called the library a great asset to Marshalltown where his grandkids love to visit, and he also offered his wholehearted endorsement of The Epoch Times for its wide range of coverage despite his disappointment that the paper doesn’t include a sports section.

Linda Huston Cakerice, flanked by her husband Lon, described herself as a supporter of the library who often checks out multiple books before heading south for the winter, and she was able to find some of her favorite Christian books during a giveaway last fall. She then shifted focus to the concepts of DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — and wondered if those principles also applied to conservative Christian viewpoints.

“I’m a conservative and I’m a Christian, and I’m just wondering. Do I get included in the diversity as everybody else — gays, lesbians, transgenders, whoever — should be included? And I feel, as a committed conservative Christian, that my views should be represented as well,” she said. “Equity. Is it fair to deny reading materials to any group, including conservative Christians? And the I is for inclusion. As a conservative Christian, shouldn’t my choices in my reading material also be included? I’m paying a lot of property taxes in this county, and I just feel like my views should also be (represented).”

John Worden of Green Mountain, who has led the push to get the publications added to the library’s shelves, started by lamenting that his statements of concern have been rejected by the board for the last 13 months and expressed frustration with Library Director Sarah Rosenblum, accusing her of circumventing policy and preventing the board from engaging in dialogue on the topic.

“The board accepts the policy deviation and refuses to correct it. Allowing the dialogue would afford all patrons the opportunity to discredit disingenuous, subjective statements regarding the request for materials,” Worden said.

He went on to recount emails between Rosenblum and Maryann Mori of the State Library of Iowa — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — that labeled him a problem patron, a harasser and a bully who regarded himself as the mayor of the unincorporated town where he lives. Worden felt the director and the board should look in the mirror regarding the legislature’s “War on Libraries” and foresaw three potential courses of action for Rosenblum: continuing on the current path of not allowing the publications and “dragging down public perception” of the library, committing to a compromise to allow them in or resigning from her position.

Garrison Oppman said he was relatively new to the community but wanted to get more involved. Oppman discussed the principles of the Constitution and the First Amendment and felt the Epoch Times presented “both sides of issues.”

“I like that. I listen to mainstream media. I listen to some conservative ones. I think that’s good for us to be able to look at the facts and see both sides and try to make an opinion,” he said.

Ray Mitchem, a retired biology teacher who has supported Worden since the early days of the controversy, felt the science reporting in The Epoch Times was the most accurate he had read.

He said he and Worden had both been cordial and cooperative despite “being yelled at” a few times and wondered why a compromise couldn’t be reached. Mitchem said he has been bringing The Epoch Times to the library each week and believes it is something the public “needs to have.”

Mark Eaton reiterated his support for the requests of the other commenters and asked the board to consider recording its meetings and posting them on YouTube after the fact to allow those who can’t attend to watch. The final commenter of the night, Friends of the Public Library Board Member Linda Holvik, struck a decidedly different tone than her predecessors.

“This issue being discussed tonight is a dead horse that has been beaten beyond all recognition, and it is time to stop,” she said.

After adjournment, Board of Trustees Vice President Kevin Pink, who led the meeting in the absence of President Tonya Gaffney, told the T-R he did not believe the board would be revisiting the matter.

According to Worden, he originally requested that the library purchase the subscriptions ($160 a year for The Epoch Times and $12 a year for American Rifleman), and in August of 2022, David Bursley offered to pay for a one-year subscription to The Epoch Times to “gauge response” from the public before offering more years. Rosenblum asked Bursley to commit to three more years, and he declined.

Last May, Mitchem offered a three year subscription to The Epoch Times that was declined, and Monte Eaton also offered to direct his lifetime American Rifleman subscription to the library.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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