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Idaho libraries say they need the public's support. Here’s a chance to let them know how you feel.

ILA hosts a "Support Idaho Libraries" event Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024
Idaho Library Association
ILA hosts a "Support Idaho Libraries" event Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024

Rarely does a librarian ask someone else for help. Think about it: their profession is to help everyone else. That said, given the Idaho Legislature’s steady stream of proposed legislation concerning libraries, more than a few librarians are feeling overwhelmed. In fact, the Idaho Library Association recently surveyed its membership, and the results were troubling.

“Across the state, library staff are feeling very demoralized ,” said Mary Dewalt, director of the Ada Community Library and vice president of the Idaho Library Association. “And that, for us, is hard to see … that our people who work so hard and are so dedicated to their communities. are feeling so beat up and that they're not feeling that this is right for them anymore. And we really want to turn that around.”

To “turn it around,” the association is holding a Support Idaho Libraries event, Saturday, Feb. 10 at Boise Brewing. Dewalt joined ILA colleague Huda Shaltry, who is also is a librarian at the Hillcrest branch of the Boise Library System, to visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice.

Read the transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. To be sure, libraries are in the crosshairs of late. At the Idaho State House, there's a steady stream of legislation proposed that specifically concerns libraries …and their policies and/or practices in access to collections. So, we were more than a bit intrigued when we saw a public event concerning this conversation scheduled for this coming weekend. And we will get to that in a moment. But first, let's bring in Mary DeWalt, director of the Ada Community Library and the Idaho Library Association’s vice president, and Huda Shaltry, legislative chair for the association, and manager of the Library at Hillcrest in the Boise Library System. Good morning to you both.

MARY DEWALT: Good morning.

HUDA SHALTRY: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Up top, I am certain you've had time to think about this and discuss this among yourselves. But do you have a sense of what's at the very root of some of these efforts?

SHALTRY: Oh, it's a hard. It's hard…to not speculate, considering our fields, our professional fields, and our education behind those fields… but it definitely feels like it's a nationwide concerted effort. I don't know that I would specifically say it's an Idaho-specific thing, unfortunately,

DEWALT: And it does seem like it's a small group of people with a loud voice. You know, the majority of our community is very supportive of us and our existing policies and procedures. And we're just hearing from a section of the community with a very loud voice….and clearly, they have the ear of some legislators.

PRENTICE: Huda Shaltry, legislative chair: I'm guessing you're the person I want to ask this question of. Do you have a seat at the table in conversations, in regards to some of these efforts?

SHALTRY: That is a really good question. Yes. We have been invited to weigh in on our thoughts for specific bills. Ultimately, I think it's safe to say that no library feels like a bill is necessary. We certainly feel like there's no issue at hand there. There's no problem at hand to begin with, and that we are doing nothing wrong. But that being said, I think there will be a lot of effort to get something passed. As we've seen…, this is the third year of this…so how much we can weigh-in and be at the table for that is….a learning curve for us… and definitely appreciative that we are there to say what we would like to say.

PRENTICE: You must know that there are people in Idaho who are convinced that underage school kids have access to what some of those people consider to be pornographic materials. Your message to them would be what?

SHALTRY: So, I will say that there are things in all libraries that are best suited for some families and not best suited for other families, and to engage with the library workers. And we can absolutely like it's one of our joys, is to help you find what is best suited for you and your family. That being said, we have families that look very different all throughout the Idaho, all throughout the world for that matter. But that's our job is to help you find what is best suited for you and your family. Yeah, I have friends constantly. Like after hours, if you will, that will text me. Like, what should I read next? What do I need for my kiddo? My. I have a four-year-old who's really into this. And you know, that's really one of my favorite things to do is to tell people what to read, um, and help guide them. So, I would say that is a huge thing, is to really explore the library and, and talk to the people that work there and let them help you search for whatever you need. And libraries are already organized by, you know, reading level, um, age level, if you will. We, you know, we have an adult section, we have a young adult or teen section, and we have a youth, the children's section in every library. And. When you think about materials for minors, you're talking about zero through 17. And so, when we hear about someone saying, you know, this isn't appropriate, well, it may not be appropriate for a five-year-old, but for a 17-year- old, yeah, that could very well be very helpful. So, I think it might go back to people not really knowing how libraries operate, that we already have specific areas that are targeted to the needs and, you know, reading levels of different age groups.

DEWALT: And many of the materials that they're talking about are in the adult collection and they're targeted for adults. It's just kind of yeah, interesting. That's a good thing to Mary that you just said. That reminded me that graphic novels are also for adults. I think one of the things that we saw, especially the first year, was, is kind of this idea that if it's a graphic novel, so if it's, you know, illustrated and things like that, therefore it's for children. But that isn't the case. Just like when South Park came out and it's an animated cartoon that everybody thought was for children, but it is not for kids, it is for adults. And so I think a lot of the graphic novels, specifically because they are images and I can understand that, you know, you can take that out of context and blast it all over the internet and say how horrible it is, but it's not. And it is for adults. And it's a beautiful book, the one that I'm thinking of, um, that most people might be thinking of is a beautiful book about consent and adult relationships. Right? And even the teen novels have a purpose. And again, we're seeing them pull paragraphs out of context… scenes in the book out of context. That's our challenge.

PRENTICE: And we could do that in almost any art form. We could certainly do it in film,  in music. And goodness knows the history of literature.

DEWALT: Anything taken out of context, of course, can be utilized.

PRENTICE: Okay. Who wants to tell me about this event on Saturday? It caught my eye. It's in downtown Boise. It's at Boise Brewing. What can you tell me about this?

DEWALT: It is. So, our friends at Boise Brewing wanted to do something to encourage support of libraries. And so, there's actually a two-part, all month long, any purchase of a particular…it's the blond I think it's called Jolene. It's a cherry blond… will go help the library association there, but then, they are, offering us a special event as well, the one you mentioned on Saturday from 6 to 9. Library personnel will be on hand to meet and greet our community. And they're giving us this opportunity to engage with our community, and we're super excited about it.

PRENTICE: 6 to 9 Saturday.

SHALTRY: February 10th from 6 to 9 at Boise Brewing, downtown.

PRENTICE: How are you doing? How are your colleagues doing? Maybe some days are better than others, but, I also know that the professionalism of a librarian is only matched by their passion.

SHALTRY: I think…like Mary said earlier, we have a lot of people that come in and just tell us, “we're so sorry you're dealing with this. What can I do to help?” Things like that, which is so lovely. That being said, hearing certain words used for your profession and, um, honestly, just dealing with this for three years now, I'm tired and I'd like to get back to my job and be able to plan my life. That certain programs that I can run through the library, I don't have to right now. I think, okay, January to March, I don't know how available I am for my staff or my library users. And here, because I don't know if I'm going to be down at the Statehouse or testifying or talking to legislators. So, I miss being able to plan things with my staff or our community here and having programs available. Um, we do have programs available. I would just like to be more involved here in my building.

DEWALT: We did do a survey, actually. That was kind of sad, because it did show that across the state,  library staff in all different types of libraries are feeling very demoralized and to the point where they are really reconsidering their career choice. And that for us, hard to see… that our people who work so hard and are so dedicated to their communities are feeling so beat up…and that they're not feeling that this is right for them anymore. And we really want to turn that around. We want to make sure that they focus on what Huda was talking about: those great programs. And, you know, you know, the light in a child's eye when you give them a book. And it's just… we need to refocus on that. And we're really hoping we can get through and be able to refocus.

PRENTICE: And here's an opportunity… Saturday right at Boise Brewing. I guess that’s a that's a very positive spin, I'm assuming. “Support Idaho Libraries” is the name of the event sponsored by the Idaho Library Association at Boise Brewing. And they are Huda Shaltry, legislative chair for the Idaho Library Association and manager of the Library at Hillcrest. And Mary Dewalt is director of the Ada Community Library and vice president of the Idaho Library Association. Great good luck to you. Have a have a really good time on Saturday. Chin up and thank you for what you do every day. And thanks for giving me some time this morning.

DEWALT: Thank you. George.

SHALTRY: Thank you so much for having us.

Find reporter George Prentice@georgepren

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