Trempealeau library director speaks out against proposed county board ordinance

Trempealeau Library Director Jessica Schoonover spoke at last Thursday’s Trempealeau village board meeting, telling elected officials she wanted them to be aware of a proposed ordinance in its beginning stages with the Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors.

The ordinance, proposed by supervisor David Orsch, could make librarians “criminally liable” if children check out books or content that are deemed inappropriate, according to Schoonover. 

Orsch did not return a call from the Times last week asking for his comment on the proposal.

“I want you to be aware that these are conversations that some people are having,” Schoonover told the village board. “This is something that if you’re not in the library world, you probably don’t know what’s happening.”

Schoonover said the most frustrating part of the ordinance proposal is that she has not heard from any county board members wanting to learn how the library regulates materials or how they are checked out by children and different users of the library.

In order to be approved, the ordinance would need to be approved by corporation counsel for legality, would then go through the committee level and finally be voted on by the full county board.

The proposed ordinance comes after backlash in 2023 regarding the book “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality” being on the bookshelves in Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District libraries as some residents feel it includes too many graphic, sexual details.

Bridgette Turner, who serves on both boards, told Schoonover she appreciates the library director’s work in Trempealeau.

“It’s anybody’s guess what could happen, but what I would want you to know, Jessica, is that most of the county supervisors, they think about the residents and the people in their towns. … I wouldn’t take all the things that are going on out there somewhere too personally. I know that’s hard but the residents here think that they are doing a great job at the library and we certainly know that you are.”

Schoonover said every library has books and other resources that are designed to give people options, and not every person is going to agree with every material in the library.

“My library has to have things on its shelf that are going to offend everybody. I have something that you probably aren’t going to want to read and something that you are going to love to read. A public library puts the onus on the parents or guardian. That is their responsibility to make sure that what those kids are taking off the shelves are right for them and it’s the right time for them to have that conversation, whatever the situation is,” Schoonover said. 

“We need to understand what is truly foundational about our rights to read and what is available and who is responsible. And you might define obscene very, very differently than you (motioning to another board member) might define obscene, and who’s going to be the one to define that,” Schoonover asked. “Not me. I’m not making that decision for anyone. So, it’s a bigger thing, and to have this so close to home should be concerning.”

Turner said Thursday was the first she had heard of the proposed ordinance, but she plans to stay in touch with Schoonover if the ordinance moves forward. She recommended that residents make sure county supervisors are aware of their feelings on topics that are in front of them so that all board members are informed.

It sounds like the proposal is in its infancy, Turner said, adding the issue could come to county board committee meetings next month based on what she heard Thursday.

Schoonover said the proposed county ordinance has been in front of the county board’s corporation counsel twice.

“I feel that the residents here in town want to keep the library and want to have the library as open to the public that they can, and I also feel it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor if they’re under 18,” Turner said.

Board member Don Hellrung spoke against the idea on Thursday.

“Of all the outrageous things I’ve heard about censorship of what is in the libraries,” Hellrung said, “I’ve never heard of any of it coming back on a librarian in a criminal fashion. … who’s deciding what to charge for? What book, what standard, whatever?”

Special Sections

Comment Here