Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Just past Macon County News’ press deadline last week, Tracy Fitzmaurice, Jackson County librarian and Fontana Regional director, provided additional information regarding the March 14 Fontana Regional Library (FRL) system Board of Trustees meeting. The 4 p.m. meeting at Hudson Library in Highlands drew almost 70 attendees, who were told they would not be allowed to give public comments regarding the controversial issue of sexually explicit books available to children and teenagers in FRL libraries.
The attendees were also told by the Board that FRL had consulted an attorney, which elicited a stream of comments from attendees.
“On advice from the attorney that FRL has retained, public comment was removed from agendas for the governing board and the advisory boards. The bylaws of each board lay out the agenda and public comment is not included in those bylaws. The attorney advised that by receiving public statements in writing in advance of the meeting, the Board will be able to address concerns in a more focused way. Correspondence must be received by noon on the Friday before the scheduled Board meeting. Correspondence can be mailed to: Fontana Regional Library, Attn. FRL Board of Trustees, 33 Fryemont St., Bryson City, N.C. 28713 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Citizens have been attending library board meetings in record numbers for the last two years. The public comments about books with sexually explicit content made available to children and teenagers and promoted in displays in children and teen library sections prompted the FRL Board to rewrite its Collection Development Policy, which it voted on January 10th, 2023. (see Macon County News Feb. 16 edition). However, many citizens continue to be concerned that some books deemed inappropriate for children should be labeled (as are DVDs) with information about the content or put in a section that is not easily accessible to children.
When attendees on March 14 learned that they would not be able to provide public comment, most left the meeting.
“The public who attended the meeting were not asked to leave but they were asked to stop disrupting the board meeting,” said Fitzmaurice. “Most chose to leave after they realized there wouldn’t be any public comment and they didn’t stay to hear how written correspondence could be submitted. Several attendees did leave copies of their written statements.”
(See last week’s Macon County News to learn more about attendees’ concerns.)
News Shared at the Meeting
After the March 14 meeting’s minutes were approved, the Director’s Report for March, written by Fitzmaurice, was read to board members. These reports cover library news and activity in all three FRL counties: Macon, Jackson, and Swain. Included in the report was the hiring of two Digital Navigators through a Digital Inclusion grant. John Modlin and Richard Broxson have been working on several projects across Jackson, Macon, and Swain county libraries and schools. The report read: The program consists of six 90-minute sessions focused on topics ranging from basic introductory Chromebook skills, cybersecurity, and email accounts to interaction with social media.”
In addition, a new Active Audio Challenge runs through May 31.
“The challenge encourages participants to move their bodies while listening to audiobooks,” offers the report. “Patrons who log 25 hours of listening to an audiobook while being active will win a reusable water bottle. All types of activity qualify including walking, running, cycling, cooking, cleaning, exercising, hiking, gardening, yard work, and more.”
Much more was shared in the report, including opportunities available at libraries in the areas of education, work and economy, affordable living, and investigation and leisure.
The report also included: “Macon County Manager Derek Roland has been asked to investigate what it would entail for Macon County to withdraw from FRL. I have provided Mr. Roland with an inventory of all items and equipment that would be considered joint property of the FRL system. I have heard no further news about this research and will update the board if I do.”
The next FRL Board meeting is Tuesday, May 9, at 4 p.m., at the Albert Carlton Cashiers Community Library.