Colorado Association of Libraries Futurist Interest Group

By Jamie LaRue, Executive Director
Garfield County Libraries
on behalf of the Colorado Association of Libraries Future Interest Group


In a recent Youtube presentation on the public good, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich cited a startling statistic. Public confidence that government did the right thing all or most of the time fell from 71% in 1963 to 16% in 2016. That was before Donald Trump became president.

Pick an institution–the church, the Supreme Court, public schools, Congress, television news–and the general trend seems pretty clear. Confidence in institutions is falling across the board. There are outliers, but after reviewing this Gallup report, I can’t help but wonder how America’s libraries are doing.

Today we’re witnessing the greatest surge of book challenges since the founding of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in 1967. Some of these campaigns are certainly coordinated, but it’s not always clear by whom. These challenges aren’t just against particular titles or themes (although most of them focus on books by or about LGBTQ+ and people of color). Increasingly, they are against librarians themselves.

A new case in Colorado raises some interesting wrinkles.

In November of last year, the Gunnison County Library District received a request to remove Maia Kobabe’s book Gender Queer: A Memoir. After a very public presentation by the complainant at a Board of County Commissioner meeting, and a large public turnout at a library board meeting where citizens mostly opposed censorship, two local newspapers requested a copy of the original Request for Reconsideration form. The library complied.

But then the complainant went to the Gunnison Police Department claiming that the library had violated Colorado’s patron confidentiality law. The District Attorney agreed with the library that releasing the name of a person filing a public challenge did not violate the law. Following extensive media coverage of public discussion on Gender Queer, the library received several more book challenges. The Crested Butte News requested all of those challenges, too. After reviewing both the Colorado Open Records Act and the confidentiality law, the library sought a clarifying opinion from Colorado’s seventh judicial district. The judge determined that the records could be provided to the newspaper, but that the names and addresses should be redacted.

At this writing, the Crested Butte News, with the help of counsel from the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, is filing an appeal. As Drew Brookhart, Executive Director of the Gunnison County Library District, notes, “The 7th Judicial District’s decision is only binding on six counties in western Colorado. The Colorado Court of Appeals decision will be binding on all of Colorado’s sixty-four counties.”

On the one hand, patrons might well be concerned that revealing their names opens them to public attacks and personal harassment, much like those directed against school librarians in Texas. On the other hand, as the newspapers allege, it is a matter of public significance to know just who is behind concerted attacks not just against library materials, but against public policies. And of course, the original complainant had already made the challenge at a public commissioner meeting.

While we don’t know how this situation will resolve, it raises many questions. Here are just a few. Please leave your comments and thoughts below.

  1. Librarians have long valued patron privacy. Does that extend to shielding patrons’ names and residences when they seek fundamental changes to library policy?
  2. Harassment, up to and including death threats, is a growing problem for many public officials, from librarians to election workers to Supreme Court Justices. How should librarians (and, potentially, Trustees) defend themselves?
  3. How should libraries respond to challenges that may well reveal diminishing trust in the institution itself?