HILLSDALE, Mich. — The Hillsdale library is in a state of flux. Its director has resigned following a proposal from the library board secretary to set much stricter limitations on the political and social content of books in the library’s collection.
Prior to the board’s May 20 meeting, Secretary Josh Paladino sent an e-mail saying library Director Bryonna Barton has begun to “fill the library with Critical Race Theory, LGBT and sexually promiscuous books and displays.”
Paladino proposed not allowing the library to purchase materials that promote political activism among children aged 18 years and younger and stipulating that all children’s materials should be non-partisan with reference to contemporary American and international political ideologies. That children’s materials should not promote, denigrate or refer to contemporary political movements including but not limited to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+, Critical Race Theory and QAnon, he said.
Barton, who started in her position six months ago, said at the meeting the library has 166 books that are related to LGBTQ people and issues and more than 1,700 books related to Christianity. She says the library has labeled books so that patrons know what they're looking at.
“I said, ‘hold up, you may not want this. It has LGTBQ on it.’ I also have labels that are Christianity because not everyone likes those,” she said. “Those are probably the two common controversial ones. We also have sci fi, fantasy and Western. We have them labeled so that you know what you’re getting. We’ve clarified for you. There is no discussion of political material (being) a problem because, and correct me if I’m wrong, but political speech is a protected right.”
Barton resigned during an emergency library board session Thursday night.
“Following the April board meeting and the first discussion of books censoring, I was beginning to question my job and the potential possibility of being removed as the director,” she said. “With that, I began my search for other work opportunities. After the May meeting wasn’t good conversation, I learned that you were all as blindsided as I was. Unfortunately, I still believe there are a couple board members that question my ability to properly run the library.”
During the emergency meeting, a motion to make a recommendation to Hillsdale City Council to remove Paladino from the board failed.
Paladino denied that he's trying to ban books, saying he only wants to curate the collection carefully.
“We’re not talking about removing books from the library,” he said. “The entire discussion – the comments to the attorneys, the comments to the Michigan Library Association, all based on false premises that I’m trying to remove anything from the library. Even the discussion of adult book removal. This was a materials selection policy. We have a separate policy for removing materials and removing materials is not censorship.”
The small meeting room was packed with concerned citizens. Some showed support for Paladino’s measures.
“This is the victim up here. He has stood up for what is right and he has been disgracefully maligned,” said a man named Paul. His last name wasn't clear from a recording of the meeting. “Josh, I’d like to thank you. I’d like to thank Mr. [George] Allen for voting down this disgraceful attempt to remove this man from the board and also [Board President] Scott [Cress] for doing so as well. The right of this community has been expressed already. The right of this community to set the standards of what material its children be exposed to, is absolute.”
While others felt Paladino was, in effect, trying to ban books.
“This incident has tarnished the community’s trust in this board due to a lack of transparency in this matter and the underhanded way in which Mr. Paladino attempted to falsely skew the image of public support in his favor,” Kathryn Watkins said. “The only people who were actually granted to see any of the text and that proposed amendment are people he contacted privately and begged to come. Don’t worry, we’ve seen your e-mail now too.”
Barton’s last day as director will be June 9.
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