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New legislation could mean changes for public libraries

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Posted at 7:56 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 19:57:45-04

RUSSELL COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky legislators have passed a new bill - Senate Bill 167 that they say is aimed at changing the way public libraries spend money.

The leaders of the Kentucky Public Library Association said the new law will add more politics to library boards and appointments, which could lead to censorship of certain books.

One sponsor of the bill State Senator Phillip Wheeler disagrees.

"My personal opinion as a legislator is that if you have the ability to tax someone and there's over 20 counties in the commonwealth where the library tax is higher than the county tax, that you should be subject to the will of the voters,” says Wheeler.

Libraries service many in the community, by providing access to computers, creative spaces, genealogy, and developmental learning.

Russell County library and KPLA leader Lindsey Westerfield says Senate Bill 167 could have further-reaching effects, like the censorship of books, particularly ones that have topics surrounding gender, race, and social action.

"Libraries being a space of ideas and a space in which all ideas can be considered, can be discussed and that it is up to each individual person to make whatever choice is right for them,” says Westerfield.

Now, public libraries will have to get additional approval before spending more than $1 million. Leaders say this could impact building development, community activities, and much more.

This KPLA chair, Westerfield, shared that community library boards now have the potential to be much more politicized.

"In which that must receive approval to spend that money from both their board and the fiscal court,” Westerfield explained.

Some Kentucky representatives, who are against the new legislation, like Representative Patti Minter, say this could have dangerous impacts on communities across the state.

Minter says, "What this bill does is not only allows public libraries assets to be sold off to private or other public entities without any concern for what the people in that county want - but it also allows for library boards to become politicized."

Westerfield says this new legislation is set to take effect on January 1 of next year. She says now she wants public libraries across the state to continue to focus on their community mission.

"Public libraries will really need to continue to focus on proving that value and that relevance to their community."