Many readers head to libraries looking for a peaceful respite in a pleasant atmosphere, a vision of tranquility seen in sharp contrast to the accusations of politicization that swirled around the leadership of the Pikes Peak Library District in recent months.
Since then, district leaders say the high-level community dissension has not influenced operational decisions or the district’s mission to reach all community members.
The Colorado Springs City Council temporarily deadlocked over the appointment of two new library board members, Aaron Salt and Erin Bents, in November amid debate over issues including mask policies earlier in the pandemic, the district’s work with homeless residents, and management of materials and books , among other issues.
The two board members were appointed in February after Councilwoman Stephannie Fortune replaced Councilman Richard Skorman, increasing support for the new representatives that have taken their seats.
The controversies led to the resignation of Chief Librarian and CEO John Spears, who was concerned that political rhetoric was having too large an influence over community boards.
Libraries nationally have seen a rise in controversy with efforts to ban books with themes focusing on gender or race rising dramatically last year, according to the American Library Association. The Pikes Peak Library District has not seen the same uptick in challenges to books, interim CEO Teona Shainidze Krebs said.
Nationally, conversation has also criticized diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and that has incorrectly categorized discussions about local work, said Dora Gonzales, the library board’s secretary and treasurer.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are about being welcoming to all, being accepting to all, being inclusive to all. It is not about what we read nationally,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said diversity, equity and inclusion has been nationally described as being just about race and that is not how the library has shaped its program at all.
When the Pikes Peak Library District evaluated groups it needed to serve more effectively through its newly formed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion department two years ago, residents with disabilities, seniors, home-school families, military members and the faith-based community members rose to the top, Shainidze Krebs said.
While the library had served those groups in the past, the new department headed by Shirley Martinez gave those efforts to reach specific community groups more structure. An audit completed by a third-party group helped inform the work, Shainidze Krebs.
While the library as introduced offerings for these groups, the library overall mission to serve everyone has not changed, she said.
“We want everyone to see themselves in our offerings,” she said.
To help improve offerings to evangelical teens, the library is working with Focus on the Family on a list of recommended materials.
Focus on Family spokesman Paul Batura said the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit recommended the “Imagination Station” book series, the “Adventures in Odyssey” audio drama series, and Clubhouse magazine to be included in a list to help families find faith-based resources .
The district is also working with downtown churches on developing book clubs for teens, Shainidze Krebs said.The library also has a partnership with Inside Out Youth Services, a nonprofit that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning youth and helped them start a Pop Culture Club during the pandemic.
To help military service members, she said, library staff has held events to ensure Fort Carson soldiers have access to its free online language learning app, Mango Languages, that they can use while deployed.
For home-school families, the library has created learning kits to improve access beyond the education resource center at East Library.
The staff is restarting lunch and movie events for seniors after pausing many in-person events during the pandemic, she said, and it has also partnered with Silver Key Senior Services to deliver meals to rural seniors at the library in Calhan.
Ensuring those with disabilities have access to library services has also been a broad push and encompasses reaching those with physical and cognitive disabilities. For example, the library district worked with city of Palmer Lake to make sure the library was fully accessible and it reopened on March 2. The construction added a ramp so those with physical disabilities could get into the building, spokeswoman Michelle Ray said.
While homeless residents are not a specific focus identified through the third-party assessment, the district is also launching a program to teach digital literacy classes at the Springs Rescue Mission that will help them find employment, Shainidze Krebs said.
The library did not make substantial changes to its collections policy that was up for review following the addition of the two new board members, Gonzalez said, which shows the strength of the document. It is reviewed on a rotating basis along with other policies.
“We all need to have different perspectives and new faces and new thinking,” she said.
The board is starting work to replace Spears, but has not set a timeline for filling the position, Gonzalez said.