Several current and former Trustees respond to recent criticism by editorial board
You may have seen the The Gazette editorial board’s recent criticism of our Library District on Wed., March 30. Several current and former members on our Board of Trustees decided to come together and submit a collective response on Mon., April 4. The daily newspaper published an abridged version of the letter, but these Trustees wanted to share their full response with you, our Library cardholders and patrons.
As current and former Trustees for Pikes Peak Library District, we felt compelled to respond to The Gazette editorial board’s recent criticism of the library system that was peppered with inaccuracies (March 30). PPLD is a public institution that’s here for everyone, valuing intellectual freedom and unrestricted access to all points of views. That’s what enticed many of us to volunteer and serve on their Board. While each of us has varying political and religious affiliations, we collectively stand firm that PPLD should be a bastion for democracy that protects First Amendment rights for all.
From a small reading room established 136 years ago, PPLD has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of our sprawling community. Their service area covers 2,070 square miles of El Paso County and a population of about 700,000, including the top 10 best-performing city of Colorado Springs. It’s essential for PPLD to provide a wide array of resources and services that reflect our region’s continuous growth and changes. Everyone – regardless of origin, age, background, or views – should have the ability to access the information they seek, even if others do not agree with the subject matter.
PPLD’s 16 facilities and three mobile library services provide safe, respectful spaces for diverse voices and perspectives, fostering community dialogue and connections. Though described as canceled, Monument Library still hosts Socrates Café that welcomes freedom of thought and expression. It also means that PPLD makes meeting rooms available to all individuals and groups at no cost; they can be used for any purpose so long as it doesn’t violate the Board-approved Meeting Room Policy. Denying this service to the community group who hosted Drag Queen Story Hour in 2018 would have been a violation of the First Amendment.
Library staff continuously evaluate what’s offered to ensure they’re serving people of all ages, interests, and zip codes. As part of this, a team of trained professionals develop and maintain physical and digital collections that are as diverse as our county’s population. There are nearly 245,000 children’s options available, covering countless genres, topics, and parenting styles like children’s Bibles, science books, and homeschooling materials to name a few. It’s also worth noting that some of the mentioned books in the editorial are not even included in PPLD’s collection, and none are actively promoted. We welcome everyone to visit their local library to browse the collection, where parents and caregivers can make selections without inhibiting another parent’s right to choose what’s best for their own family’s circumstances, views, and educational goals.
PPLD did hire a third-party vendor to conduct an audit in 2020 that examined its staffing, resources, and services through the lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion to better serve and reflect our changing community. While the editorial only focused on race, this assessment and following efforts extended well beyond that – encompassing a broader view and focus on EDI that only expends about 0.5 percent of the Library’s annual operating budget.
With a new EDI public service and dedicated staff, PPLD can ensure their spaces and programs are welcoming and accessible for every resident. This includes those with disabilities, members of the military and their families, older adults, those of different faiths, people of color, immigrants, LBGTQIA+ individuals, those who live in more rural parts, and many other identities within our county. Some of the Library’s recent work includes improving accessibility and making accommodations for those with disabilities, expanding services for veterans, working with Focus on the Family to develop book lists for teens and children of the Christian faith, and collaborating with other entities to ensure anyone seeking support can access what they need.
As a public institution that’s funded by taxpayers, PPLD makes decisions in the best interests of all residents and directly reinvests back into our region by creating physical and digital spaces for belonging, personal growth, and stronger communities. That’s why we all stand with PPLD and the values of public libraries to uphold intellectual freedom. No one can thrive if the Library is exclusive and impeding people’s rights instead of being inclusive and welcoming to all.
Dr. Ned Stoll (PPLD Board president), Scott Taylor (vice president), Dora Gonzales (secretary & treasurer), and Debbie English (past president), along with former Trustees, Judith Casey, Cathy Grossman, Tom Herd, JoAnn Orsborn, and Kathleen Owings