Conservative culture warriors take aim at Kansas City’s Mid-Continent Public Library

Facebook/Mid-Continent Public Library
·3 min read

America’s partisan gridlock has now shown up — of all places — at your local library.

That’s right. Those oases of peace and thoughtful tranquility are about to become the latest battle zone in the War on Books and Ideas.

The nationally recognized Mid-Continent Public Library can’t even get a budget passed because of a social conservative movement that for some reason wants to gum up the works at one of the best library systems in the country.

It didn’t quite shut down the library system this time, but it could have.

Thanks only to the brilliant foresight of earlier Mid-Continent Public Library trustees, the three-county library system has a budget. But that’s no credit to the current board: Because the 12-member board was unable to approve the staff-proposed budget, in the absence of an alternative plan, the proposed budget — yes, the same one members did not approve — automatically kicked in as of midnight Tuesday, the deadline to have a budget in place.

“I want to express my disappointment,” said Jackson County board member Brent Schondelmeyer, who voted for the budget. “I don’t believe we fulfilled our responsibilities as a board.”

To make matters worse, the disputed budget is likely to be at the center of a year’s worth of attacks sure to come from those disapproving members. Yes, by all means, let’s keep trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing.

Mid-Continent has earned a rating of excellence from the Government Finance Officers Association every year for more than a decade. And for 20 consecutive years, Mid-Continent has had a clean audit. It has not changed the budget process used for 12 years, because why would you when you’re doing it right?

Well, here’s why: For the last two years, social conservatives have been attacking public schools for teaching about U.S. racial history. They’ve also been rooting around school libraries looking to ban books that address racism or LGBTQ issues. Now the book banners have turned their focus on public libraries.

To be sure, one of the trustees offered up a fig leaf for their actions, saying taxpayers who fund the library deserve to know the system is not overspending. And that’s true.

But we’ve seen how in town after town across the country, conservative activists are challenging books whose ideas they disagree with. They started with school libraries. And now public libraries are their new frontier.

The good news, though, is that libraries here won’t be shutting down. Had there been no budget that would have been the result. So applause to whoever had the acuity, way back when, to put into policy a failsafe measure to protect the library system from a dysfuntional board like the one that Tuesday night ended a crucial budget vote in gridlock.

The vote was 6-to-6. All the no votes came from members who at some point have sided with conservative precepts, according to some board members.

The split revealed what we have said more than once in the last year: There is a segment of the board that has a problem with an efficiently run, strong and voter-supported library system that also does an excellent job of serving a diverse population in our communities.

Votes against the budget proposal came from the same Platte and Clay county conservative members who have opposed diversity training, hiring practices and maintaining library programs for LGBTQ youth.

About 30 area residents attended Tuesday’s meeting. Several pleaded with the board to approve the staff proposed budget. No one suggested they do otherwise. And to a resounding round of applause from the audience, a Liberty resident and school librarian suggested that board members resign if their mission is not aligned with the American Library Association priorities to promote diversity, equity of access, education, continuous learning, and intellectual freedom.

Because what good reason would someone who does not support public library pursuits have for sitting on that board?

No good reason.