Audience member removed from Hamilton East Public Library board meeting


During the July 27 Hamilton East Public Library board meeting, board members questioned whether the recent Human Library event at the Fishers Library promoted prostitution, asked whether library staff could be paid $5 a book to review books in their down time to hasten the collections policy review process and had police forcibly remove an audience member after he had spoken during public comment.

Board president Laura Alerding also cut off public comment after four of the 16 people who signed up spoke, citing disruptions.

The meeting, held at the Fishers Library, had been rescheduled by Alerding from its regular 6:15 p.m. time to 3 p.m. When asked for a reason by board member Michelle Payne, Alerding said she had two reasons: Another board member had a conflict at the usual meeting time, and Alerding hoped that an afternoon meeting would have fewer disruptions. 

During the time for Library Director Edra Waterman’s report to the board, board member Ray Maddalone questioned Waterman about how quickly library staff is reviewing books for compliance with the board’s collections policy, adopted late last year.

The review considers content such as nudity, substance use, repeated use of profanity, depictions or incitement to violence and sexual activity. Books containing any of those themes are moved to the adult section of the library. Implementing the policy was estimated in May to take about 8,000 hours of staff time and was expected to cost more than $300,000. That’s all staffing costs, because all the books need to be read carefully to see if their content requires them to be moved to the adult section.

Waterman told the board that staff has been able to review about 3 percent of the collection every two weeks, which Maddalone said is not acceptable. He suggested ways to hasten the review process, including offering staff $5 per book that they could read in their down time, such as when they’re at the circulation desk waiting for patrons needing assistance.

Waterman responded that library staff members have tasks to perform in between helping patrons. 

“We estimated this would take about a year and think we can get it done in that time frame,” she said. “We all want to get this done, I get it, but I ask that consideration be made to the staff that are doing (their) jobs.”

Waterman noted that her team is always looking at ways to make the review more efficient. However, they have to read every page of every book to find out whether the book has any of the content listed in the policy, and that takes time. 

In her report to the board, Waterman talked about the Human Library event, which took place July 15 at the Fishers branch. In her report, she stated that the Facebook post announcing it would be taking place had a reach of about 44,000, the largest reach of any library post so far. 

The Human Library is an international nonprofit that organizes events where volunteers — called “books” — with interesting stories and backgrounds have 1-on-1 conversations with “readers.” The goal is to promote understanding and reduce negative stereotypes. 

Some board members questioned the topics offered during the Human Library event. Micah Beckwith said he saw that one topic offered by the organization focuses on sex workers. 

“Does the organization as a whole promote prostitution as something to celebrate?” he asked. “My concern is, if we’re partnering with an organization that’s glorifying something that’s illegal (in Indiana).”

Waterman said the organization doesn’t promote anything except understanding and empathy. The events are meant to give others an opportunity to learn about someone else’s experience.

“Sex Worker” was not one of the topics available during the Fishers Library event. 

During public comment at the end of the meeting, Adam Crouch, first person who spoke, focused on the board’s collection review policy. He said there were numerous references in the Bible that make it eligible to be moved out of the children and teen sections. He held up various copies of the Bible as examples, and when he sat back down, he dropped the books on the floor next to him.

Alerding told Crouch he shouldn’t treat library property that way, and asked him to leave after he spoke back from his seat. When he refused, she asked police officers to escort him out. Crouch continued to refuse to leave, and eventually was taken out in handcuffs by five officers while other audience members repeatedly yelled “Shame!” 

Three other people spoke during public comment. Two supported the Human Library event, and one of them suggested that library board members should have attended. 

The last person to speak thanked the board for its collections review policy, and compared some books in the library to pornography. As he sat down, there were some comments from the audience. Alerding then adjourned the meeting early, citing “constant disruptions.”

The next HEPL board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Noblesville branch.