Letter: Diversity, equity, inclusion and the teen space at our public library

From: Andrew Sekeres III


Irwin Miller, one of the prominent leaders in Columbus history, would be taken aback at the recent conversations at the Bartholomew County Public Library. During his time, Miller was not only one of the first leaders of the Cummins Engine Company, but also a civil rights leader. He worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he was organizing the March on Washington.

In the past few months, there have been discussions at the Bartholomew County Public Library on the materials in their collections and a gathering space for teenagers in our community. A small number of individuals are actively trying to persuade members of the library board to restrict or ban materials.

The materials in question are mostly focused on fiction geared toward youth and teenagers that have characters that are part of the LGBTQIA+ and/or black/indigenous/persons of color (BIPOC) communities. The small number of individuals who want to restrict or ban these books feel they are inappropriate to have in our taxpayer-funded public library.

Banning books is not American. The United States was built upon the notion that individuals have a freedom of expression, whether it is speech, the press, assembly, or religion (the First Amendment of the Constitution). In addition, the founding fathers wrote in the same amendment that “Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise”. However, a small number of individuals want to push their ideology onto the whole society. The public library is a microcosm of American society. The public library is a space in which individuals from all walks of life can find materials to read, listen to or watch.

This welcoming space is especially important to our community’s youth. According to the 2019 United Way Community Report on Bartholomew County, there has been an increase in depression and hopelessness among our youth. There has been an uptick in suicidal ideation in our youth. The public library has been a safe space for many youths in our community, especially in a community that is lacking spaces for youth. However, during a recent meeting of the library board, there has been discussion to get rid of or redesign the teen space. One of the reasons for the sudden change has been due to the same small number of individuals who want to restrict or ban books and other materials from our youth.

I write this letter to implore that the library does not listen to the small number of individuals who want to restrict or ban books or materials and redesign the teen space to accommodate their views. The public library is a welcoming space that is also lifesaving, especially for our youth who may not have many opportunities to interact with those who have similar interests and ideas. Columbus and Bartholomew County should be welcoming to all and not to a select few. This is what Irwin Miller was thinking when he was helping to develop Columbus.