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Canceled library programming in Klamath County divides residents

Officials in Klamath County are ending library programming that can be viewed as political.
Shaden.student pn via Wikimedia Commons
Officials in Klamath County are ending library programming that can be viewed as political.

Some Klamath County library programming has ended following complaints about a social justice book club that featured the book, “No More Police: A Case for Abolition.”

Earlier this month, a Klamath County book club was canceled following complaints from residents about a book it featured, “No More Police: A Case for Abolition.”

“We picked a book every month that would stimulate discussion about current social justice issues,” said Charla Oppenlander, the assistant library director of the Klamath County Library Service District.

In addition to the book about abolishing police, the club featured other titles like “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” that addressed income inequity and other social issues. The book club hosted about five to eight community members, according to Oppenlander.

At a meeting on May 3, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners instructed the library to ensure programming didn’t create a perception of endorsing or sponsoring a political position.

“I’m not about banning books, ever,” said Derrick DeGroot, the chair of the commission at the meeting. But, he added, “We don’t have political discussions at our library, it is a safe place for people to actually escape the noise.”

As a result, library officials canceled programming that could be construed as being political, including the book club.

Another discussion group that had been running for about 20 years called “Great Decisions” was also brought up at the meeting. Commissioner Kelley Minty noted that she was concerned about affecting “Great Decisions” because it has run for many years and “hasn’t been a problem in the past.” But library officials said they would stop offering “Great Decisions” since it focuses on international affairs.

Library officials added that they are concerned about the future of other educational and civic events. Some residents also worry about the precedent the decision sets for suppressing other speech.

“The ‘Battle of the Books’ — it’s an Oregon state thing that is geared toward children — addresses some difficult topics,” said Lois Taysom, a Merrill resident and member of the Klamath County Library advisory board. “If it’s something that bothers somebody and they can complain about it and say it’s political, it can be canceled.”

The competition is held throughout the state and features a book list for students to read and answer “Jeopardy”-like trivia questions about them. Books in the past have discussed issues like poverty and the caste system.

Questions remain on how to move forward with it and what titles could be deemed to be problematic based on their content.

“I’m not sure I have the most perfect definition of what’s political and what’s not,” Minty said. “For me, I feel like the point we’re at now is we need to get to problem solving.”

Oppenlander, Taysom and Minty spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller about this issue. Click play to listen to the full conversation:

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Castillo