LAKE LUZERNE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – At Rockwell Falls Public Library, the last several weeks have been contentious. A drag storytime hour planned for April drew protests from members of the community at a library board meeting. The situation came to the point that the event was postponed entirely, its future uncertain.
This month, a new spotlight shines on the small town library. At its most recent meeting, the library board discussed what book bans would mean for the community. Not every member stood on the same side of the issue.
“When you take an oath of office at a library board, you swear to protect the First Amendment,” said Rockwell Falls Public Library President Courtney Keir on Thursday. “What I can’t get my head around is how you turn around, in the same conversation, and ask for a list of every book purchased by the library in the last year.”
At last week’s board meeting, discussion of a resolution against book bans faced objection by a recently-inducted trustee who Keir did not identify by name. The trustee claimed that a book ban would lessen the board’s ability to discuss what material was appropriate for community consumption, going so far as to call out Keir by name as promoting a “specific agenda.”
As the library president, Keir was not at the board meeting, but watched it live – and has no hesitation in expressing her feelings on the matter, or the meaning of serving a local library.
“I do not believe that a board trustee has any right to decide what materials they themselves deem acceptable for the community to read. That’s a slippery slope to 1984,” Keir said. “It’s really scary stuff.”
In April, Lake Luzerne residents attended a Rockwell Falls board meeting to speak against a planned storytime event to be held by Albany-based drag performer Scarlet Sagamore. Parents and community members said they felt that an event hosted by a drag queen had no place at the library, and would sexualize and threaten their children. Sagamore, who has since moved away from the Albany area, planned to read three short children’s books, followed by a singalong and craft.
Keir doesn’t think last week’s book ban conversation would have taken place if the storytime event had never been scheduled – but she stands by it. Events are chosen by library staff, including Rockwell Falls’ services coordinator, who runs regular storytime sessions and communicates with the public one-on-one.
When the event was postponed, the library announced that more research needed to be done on whether it would be right for the community. According to Keir, plenty of research was done before the event was ever announced – and the board knew about it the whole time.
Both topics – book bans and drag performances – have been subject to ramping laws in many states. This week, Montana became the first state to ban drag performers from hosting children’s story events at schools and libraries. Meanwhile, a study by PEN America recently reported nearly 1,500 books banned at school districts in the U.S. across the first half of the 2022-23 school year.
“This is happening all over the country,” said Keir. “I will do my best as an advocate against censorship to see that this is not an issue that comes to fruition in this library. That’s my job, as a library professional. It’s what I eat, sleep and breathe.”
NEWS10 did not receive a response to a request for comment from the Rockwell Falls Board of Trustees. The board meets on the third Tuesday of every month, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. A final decision on the drag story hour is expected from the board in June.