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Newscast 02.08.24: Iowa lawmakers advance library bill despite opposition from librarians at public hearing

Sioux City Public Library, Dowtwon
Sioux City Public Library, Dowtown

A bill some librarians say could take away local control of libraries was approved by the House local government subcommittee Thursday.

Just as in SSB 3131, that was withdrawn earlier this week, HSB 678 would allow city councils to strip appointed library boards of their power. It would also transfer decision-making authority solely to those councils. And that would happen without a referendum, which is the current legal requirement.

The proposed bill would also allow a city council to intervene in the process of hiring a library director.

More than 20 library workers and directors and concerned citizens showed up at Thursday's subcommittee hearing. Director of the Sioux City Public Library Helen Rigdon was attending the hearing virtually. Rigdon says there's no reason to make such sweeping changes because city councils already have the power to sanction board member who are not doing their job.

"A city audit would take care of that, and the city council does appoint library board members. So they could handle removing a single person if that's what the problem was."

Some library directors and citizens noted that city councils may not have the expertise needed to run a library. Wayne Dooley is a six-generation farmer in Marshall County who is the chair of the board of trustees at the library in Albion. He called the bill a trainwreck.

Rigdon also said she was concerned about the possibility that city councils could control access to information due to political bias. Democratic Representive Ken Croken of Davenport agrees. He is a member of the local government House committee. He called in to the hearing to say he was concerned about undue influence and censorship in Iowa libraries.

“Politicizing what people can read and think is a disasterous consequence for democracy.”

However subcommittee chair Carter Nordman who represents the the 47th district said that city councils from around Iowa have told him they believe the measure is needed.

“There is personnel issues, there is taxpayer dollars being spent, and these are the individuals who are elected to make those decisions. So if there are issues with the library board, I think the buck stops at the city council.

The bill has been moved on to the full House local government committee.

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