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Demonstration planned in response to canceled Klamath County library book group

The Klamath County Library in downtown Klamath Falls.
Jane Vaughan
The Klamath County Library in downtown Klamath Falls.

In May, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners decided to cancel a library-sponsored social justice book group over concerns the programming could be perceived as political.

The decision has received significant pushback from community members, who say canceling public discussions is censorship.

Jonathan Chenjeri, an organizer with the Klamath Falls Democratic Socialists of America, who is organizing Saturday's demonstration, said the commissioners are limiting space for public dialogue.

"It's important that institutions support types of intellectual dialogue and speech that might be bothersome to others, as long as they're not imposing it. This isn't a question of hate speech, this is a question of intellectual dialogue," he said.

Commissioners have said they've received multiple complaints about the social justice book group, which formed last August and had planned to discuss a book called "No More Police."

"I think government has to be neutral, period," Commissioner Dave Henslee said at the May meeting.

Commissioners and library staff have debated what content should be considered political, as well as how this decision might impact other library programming.

Much of the debate has to do with the fact that the book groups are library-sponsored and moderated by library staff, which commissioners said could be considered endorsements.

"By staffing it, we are endorsing whatever the conversation is," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Derrick De Groot in May.

According to Library Director Nathalie Johnston, in 2017, the library specifically chose to ban unsupervised groups from meeting at the library to avoid having to decide who was and was not allowed at the library; library staff are currently there to ensure group members are following the rules and to moderate discussions.

"It's navigating discussion, right? It's not advocating for a certain position. And that's essentially what they've limited," Chenjeri said.

The library did not make any staff available for comment, and none of the county commissioners were available for comment.

The silent demonstration will be held on Saturday at noon outside the library in Klamath Falls.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.