Jennings library orders rainbow flag off Pride display

NORTH VERNON — A display marking Pride Month in recognition of LGBTQ+ people has been stripped of anything identifying it as such, though related books in the Jennings County Public Library’s collection will remain.

The Jennings County Public Library Board ordered that a rainbow flag be removed from the display along with a sign that said “love is love” and other elements identified with Pride Month and LGBTQ+ rights under a new library display policy the board adopted at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Library officials said about 60 people attended the meeting at the library in North Vernon after a patron made a verbal complaint regarding the morality of the display during a regular library board meeting last week, setting the stage for Tuesday’s meeting.

The new policy allows patrons to file a written challenge “if there is a display that might be considered controversial or polemic,” said library board president Jennifer Ertel.

The board approved the policy and the removal of Pride-referencing content from the display on a 5-0 vote after allowing Jennings County residents in favor of the display and those against two minutes to speak, allotting 16 minutes for each side.

Ertel said multiple people spoke in favor of the display, using all of the allotted time, but just two people spoke against. She said several people who spoke in favor of the display mistakenly believed the board was considering removing books.

“That’s not something we do in the library,” she said, adding that parents, not the library, are responsible for guiding children and what they read. “We don’t have any ‘hidden’ books or ‘bad’ books, they’re just books, just information,” Ertel said.

Asked whether the board’s action may lead to more challenges of books on the library shelves, however, she said, “I don’t know.”

Overall, Ertel said, “I did hear from people on both sides, and they felt like we handled it well and came up with a good compromise,” though some felt strongly the entire display should be left untouched or taken down entirely.

“Not everybody’s going to be happy with the decision,” said library administrator Mary Abplanalp. She said she wants the public to know that the library is a safe and neutral place for everyone.

“We are a library for the entire community, and not just one group,” Abplanalp said.

The new policy means, however, “it’s going to be interesting” putting together library displays in the future. “It’s going to make it difficult, however, we are librarians … we are very fortunate to have a great staff that is very creative, smart and thoughtful and will be able to walk within the guidelines of our policy.”

For instance, in place of materials the board chose to remove from the Pride display, the library has put up “inspirational bookmarks” and other material that doesn’t mention the theme of the displayed content, she said.

“I want the community to know the library is for everyone,” Abplanalp said. “Hate from other patrons or derogatory remarks … none of that will be tolerated here.”