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Hamilton East Public Library Board removes controversial language in its collection development policy

Hamilton East Public Library board has heated meeting – News 8 at 11

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — The Hamilton East Public Library Board on Thursday voted 5-1 to remove the controversial language in its Collection Development Policy that has caused public outcry over the last year.

It was a heated board meeting where members verbally sparred with each other over the existence of the disputed language during the two-hour-long meeting.

Craig Siebe, Michelle Payne, Andre Miksha, Bill Kenley and Susan Crandall voted to remove the language while Micah Beckwith voted no. Tiffanie Ditlevson abstained.

The language in question required strict attention be given to nudity, alcohol and drug use, profanity, violence, and sexual content before a book is placed in the children or teen sections. Those sections were found in paragraphs five and six of the policy criteria and had two additional appendices to clarify specific language that would violate the policy. The language was added in December 2022 and updated and revised over the course of 2023.

During the end of the meeting, board secretary Michelle Payne moved to remove Tiffanie Ditlevson as president of the board and instead switch her to vice president and instate current vice president Craig Siebe as president. That passed in a 4-2 vote. Siebe, Payne, Miksha and Kenley voted “yes,” while Beckwith and Ditlevson voted “no.” In her first meeting, Crandall abstained from this vote.

After Payne made this motion, Ditlevson responded that she would no longer be on the board as of December 31, surprising many in the room. She made no clarifying comments as to the reasoning behind this decision. Payne clarified that her motion was immediate prior to the vote.

This policy came under fire this summer when popular Indiana author John Green posted to social media calling out the HEPL board for the policy. The public attention from that post brought the policy back before the board in August where it was decided to suspend the language in question until further discussions could happen.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Cathi White, a Fishers resident. “My grandmother was a master librarian and I was really disappointed to see the direction the library was going.”

The board only voted on the decision to remove the language. Payne also submitted an action plan relating to other aspects of the policy and the board verbally committed to further work at future meetings.

The plan presented data from a survey of members showing that many did not agree with the policy among other concerns. The document provided three solutions including expanding the parent and teacher section, creating a “parental responsibility” campaign and noting that all changes remain the right of the board.

Board members were faced with constant interruptions from members of the audience bickering with each other over taking photos, talking and live streaming the meeting to social media. At one point an altercation nearly broke out between two women when one appeared to put her hands in the other’s space and then reached forward to take a photo of the woman using her phone during the meeting.

The board heard from five members of the public. Of those who spoke directly about the policy, two were for the removal of the language in the policy and two were against it.

“Later in this meeting as you consider giving children more access to literature that sexualizes and indoctrinates know that you are making a decision to take the innocence of children and put them in harm’s way,” said Naomi Cowling, a Noblesville resident.

“I hope to see the situation settle down,” said White, in an interview with News 8. “I think we’re going in the right direction. I think there are some new faces on the board that care very much about the community and the library.”

The board was slated to hear a presentation on child development from Dr. Daniel Stock but ultimately voted to cancel the presentation. He was allowed to speak during the public comment section about impulse control.

Tiffanie Ditlevson attended the meeting virtually and was permitted to vote on the specific issues in this meeting per Indiana open door laws.