Bartholomew County Public Library: Board approves teen area findings

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A view of bookshelves in the teen section of the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, Ind., Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

After several months of research and analysis, Bartholomew County Public Library staff have concluded that its teen department is in need of more diverse materials and should be moved to a new location within the library.

The library’s board of trustees voted on Monday to adopt the teen subcommittee’s final report, which will be available at, said library director Jason Hatton.

The report contained three main recommendations:

  • Make a concentrated effort to seek out diverse materials for the section
  • Adopt a policy for book displays
  • Relocate and reorganize the teen section

“It’s not really doing anything much different than we have been doing,” said Hatton. “It’s just, I just keep coming back to that word, ‘intentional.’ It’s just really focusing on several key pieces that we kind of thought we were doing, I think, but maybe not quite as well as we thought.”

Since the spring of 2022, there have been a number of library board meetings where some individuals advocated certain teen section books be moved to another area of the library or be banned from the facility, while others decried those sentiments as censorship. Many of the books in question dealt with LGBTQ issues.

Monday’s report was the culmination of several months of work by library staff to examine the department and explore possible improvements. The process included a study of other libraries’ teen collections, a public survey on the local teen department and a title-by-title diversity audit of the library’s teen fiction materials.

Among other things, the audit found that about 75% of authors and protagonists in the collection are white, and only 10 to 15% identify as LGBTQIA+.

Moving forward, staff plan to make diversity a major priority and be intentional about how materials are sourced.

“We will accomplish this by regularly looking at specialized publishing companies whose focus is also on various diverse subject matters as well as ALA’s (American Library Association) annual Youth Media Awards which includes many diverse awards,” library staff wrote. “We will strive to add more books by authors with disabilities, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) authors, authors from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, LGBTQIA+ authors, and more Spanish language titles, especially those originally published in Spanish.”

The report includes a list of specific awards and publishers that staff will follow in order to better represent various groups, including Christians.

Hatton added that the library will receive quarterly reports on the diversity of its entire collection from collectionHQ, which includes a breakdown by age. He also said that it might be a good idea to offer the teen department survey periodically to get up-to-date feedback.

The teen subcommittee report also included a book display policy.

“The Bartholomew County Public Library highlights materials from our collection in order to enable our patrons to find the materials they need, promote programs happening within the library, and to encourage the discovery of something new,” staff wrote. “This is done through activities such as monthly displays, pop-up displays, small groupings of materials, and reading lists. These activities are planned, curated, and implemented by library staff.”

They added that topics are chosen “with intentionality”, and these activities often coincide with national celebrations and observances, as well as “community relevance and hot topics.”

“All groupings of highlighted materials are created to promote and highlight diversity and inclusion within the community, and thus seek to exhibit the diversity of the library’s collection by displaying a wide array of backgrounds and viewpoints in characters, authors, genres, formats, and ideas,” staff wrote.

Additionally, the board’s adoption of the report served as confirmation of a new configuration for the teen department, which officials had discussed at previous meetings.

The plan is to convert the former Indiana Room — now referred to as the main level meeting room — into a programming space for teens and the new home for teen department staff. The teen collection will be located just outside the room, with staff writing that they will work to distinguish the area with “shelving configurations and styles that differ from the other collections.”

“This will showcase it as a unique space,” staff wrote. “We will be experimenting with the best ways to present and group different materials. Special care will be taken to be thoughtful about the proximity of the various teen subcollections and other collections.”

Hatton said in a previous interview that the teen department, along with the reference section, is expected to close for flooring renovations this week. The closures are expected to last about three weeks. Some teen materials, services and programs will be available, but most of the nonfiction collection will be inaccessible during this time.

The teen desk is now located near the library’s front windows, on the left-hand side of those entering the building.

While the teen section is expected to move to its new home upon its reopening, staff will not move into the former Indiana Room until modernization work is finished on the library’s elevator, Hatton said. The room is currently being used as the library’s main programming space in order to provide accessibility. Therefore, once the flooring work is complete, the teen desk will be located in the reference desk’s current location until the elevator is finished.

The reference department — printers and scanners included — is expected to move to the library’s DVD area on Thursday, and this will become the department’s new home permanently, said Hatton. They also plan to move the adult graphic novel section to this area.

DVDs, audiobooks and the Library of Things will eventually be located where the reference desk currently is.

Hatton said that carpeting in the library’s nonfiction areas is set to begin next Monday. Library staff hopes the area will be complete by July 25, but he acknowledged that this may not be realistic.

The children’s department, which has been closed for about a month due to flooring work, is expected to reopen soon, and materials were being moved back into the section as of Monday, he said.

“That will, we anticipate, be today and tomorrow,” he said. “And then Wednesday, at some point in time, there’ll be a period of time where the children’s department — the desk will not be staffed, and materials will be hit or miss, where they are. We will make that point as short as possible.”