Hamilton East Public Library board pauses controversial book review policy


The Hamilton East Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously Aug. 24 to pause the controversial part of its collections review policy, and to take another look at that section as a board and with input from library staff. 

The HEPL board and its policy have faced national media attention and criticism after the bestseller “The Fault in Our Stars” by Indiana author John Green, along with many others in the teen section, was moved to the general collection because of stipulations in the board’s collections policy regarding sexual acts and profanity. 

The board also chose new officers for the 2023-24 term. Effective Aug. 27, the new board president will be Tiffanie Ditlevson; vice president will be Craig Siebe; Ray Maddalone will be secretary; and Andre Miksha will be assistant secretary/treasurer. 

Current Board President Laura Alerding’s term ends this month, and she was not reappointed to her seat by the Noblesville School Board. That board instead chose to appoint Noblesville High School English teacher Bill Kenley

The Aug. 24 meeting in the Noblesville Library was standing-room only, with many audience members holding up small signs that read, “I support Director Waterman” — referring to Library Director Edra Waterman — and others holding handwritten signs with messages such as “Let the Readers Read.” 

Throughout the discussion of the policy, there was constant critical comments from some audience members, making it challenging at times to hear the board. 

Maddalone, one of the board members who supported the age-appropriate-review section of the library’s collections policy, said “The Fault in Our Stars” should not have been moved to the general collection. He said the one scene in the book where the two teenage characters have sex is not explicit, and the profanity is at an acceptable level for teen readers. 

He said the policy isn’t the problem, it’s how it was interpreted. 

Library Director Edra Waterman said she provided the board with a detailed plan about how the policy would be implemented, and there was no objection from the board until now. 

“We were concerned the whole time with how very broad the definitions in the policy are,” she said, adding that staff has been asking for more detailed guidance since January. 

Maddalone said the board had indicated that if there was doubt about a book — if it was “on the fence” — that it should be left in the teen section. Waterman countered that the board actually had told her the opposite — that if there was doubt, it should be moved. 

Public comment was scheduled for the end of the meeting, and more than 40 people had signed up to speak. Some had left before their names were called, so 34 ended up addressing the board. 

A clear majority of those speakers criticized either the board or the collections review policy, often both. Among them was Fishers resident Ward Kennedy, who said he is a sixth-generation Hoosier, a disabled veteran and the descendant of veterans. 

“In their time, they fought fascism in battle,” he said. “I took an oath to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Fascism is rising again, and we’re seeing it in this policy instigated by the board. I completely trust the library professionals this board has at its disposal. Librarians are amazing people and they deserve the according trust. This policy is absent of that.”

A handful of speakers praised the book review policy and encouraged the board to stay the course. One of them was Noblesville resident and educator Naomi Cowling. She said they have an obligation to do no harm to children, and need to establish guardrails. 

“It will be worth the expense and effort,” she said. “And at the end of the process, there will be a multitude of books available in the children’s section of the library.”