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Idaho librarian resigns over political climate of ‘extremism’ and ‘militant Christian fundamentalism’

Kimber Glidden announced her departure from the head of the Idaho library on its official Facebook page, citing a ‘political atmosphere of extremism’

Johanna Chisholm
Monday 22 August 2022 17:37 BST
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An Idaho library director handed in her resignation, citing a political atmosphere of “extremism”, “militant Christian fundamentalism” and “intimidation” as the causes for her early departure from the public institution.

“I want to thank the Boundary County Library Board of Trustees for providing me the opportunity to serve as Director of the Boundary County Library,” wrote library director Kimber Glidden in an announcement shared on the library’s Facebook page.

“My experience and skill set made me a good fit to help the district move toward a more current and relevant business model and to implement updated policy and best practices,” the director, who joined the institution late last year, added. “However nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community.”

Ms Glidden said that she intends to leave her post on 10 September as head of the library located in the northernmost county in Idaho.

The Boundary County Library is in Bonners Ferry, one of the more remote destinations in the western state, particularly in the winter months, and serves about 12,000 residents.

The library boasts on its website that it was awarded the best small library in America award in 2017 by Library Journal magazine, the premier publication for the industry.

As recently as the beginning of the year, however, board members began to face a growing wave of parents and community members who challenged the library’s policies around borrowing books that they perceived as “pornographic”, reflecting how far the culture war taken up by Conservatives who believe books with LGBT+ themes are “dangerous” can reach into small town politics.

In districts and states across the country, parents, guardians and even state-elected politicians are challenging any material that touches on the issues of sexual orientation, gender identity or even race, fearing that the inclusion of such topics will manipulate the minds of children.

And according to the American Library Association (ALA), these kinds of attempts to ban books in libraries, schools, and universities reached a two-decade high just last year, with the national group finding 729 examples of such challenges.

The most commonly targeted books were ones authored “by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons,” the group noted.

For the Boundary County Library, those same themes proved to be what initially prompted a group of parents and residents to form a group called Boundary County Library Board Recall, whose stated mission “is to protect children from explicit materials and grooming.”

Lee Colson, who represents zone 5 on the library’s board, said that from the moment the group began advocating for the removal of books that discussed LGBT+ themes, it just “snowballed from there”.

More recently the group of concerned parents had begun a petition to remove four of the library’s five board members, which included Mr Colson, after the institution had revised a policy around the collection of and selection of new library materials.

“Selection of materials will not be affected by any such potential disapproval, and the Boundary County Library will not place materials on ‘closed shelves’ or label items to protect the public from their content,” the new policy reads, according to the library’s website.

Parents in the group, who also took issue with Ms Glidden re-joining the library to the ALA back in May, have posted on the group’s website about their growing concerns that the association “has a clear mission statement that does not align with the moral fiber of most in our community”, while shared a link to an article penned by an alt-right news site that describes the national non-profit as being guilty of promoting “grooming” for allowing LGBT+ content on shelves.

The Independent contacted the group for comment on the petition but did not hear back from it immediately.

The group has also repeatedly brought forward a list of books that are frequently touted in right-wing circles as being problematic titles as being the cause for their scare, but officials have pointed out that not one of those titles is currently in the library’s curation.

“So really what they are trying to do is limit our ability to select books to be in our collection,” Mr Colson told the Idaho Press.

When a person requests a title, librarians at the institution can request the material from a neighbouring institution through an interlibrary loan process. If enough requests for a specific title are made, the library then has the purview to make that book a permanent part of their borrowed collection.

“We get books that people are interested in reading,” Mr Colson added.

The library’s outgoing director has said that she would’ve tendered her resignation immediately, except for the fact that the annual budget for the library is due next month and she’d prefer to stay on to steer them through the tedium of that process before leaving.

“Boundary County is a warning,” Ms Glidden told the Idaho Press, after emphasising once more that none of the titles from the so-called bad book list are held at the institution. “It’s not about the books.”

Titles that have recently come under fire from right-leaning Conservative groups include not just LGBTQ+ material, but also ones that discuss race and politics.

One parent in Texas was reportedly trying to convince the Katy School District to remove a book about former first lady Michelle Obama because it promotes “reverse racism” against white people, while a Tennessee school board recently removed “Maus” — a graphic novel that retells the horrific Holocaust experience of the author’s parents — after it deemed the content was inappropriate for children.

And the knee-jerk reaction to ban books goes higher up than local school districts. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned more than 50 maths textbooks in April after a Department of Education concluded the materials were too “woke”, noting that they included “critical race theory” and the “unsolicited addition” of social-emotional learning concepts.

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