Klamath County Library could lose grant funding after book club controversy

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. – Thousands of dollars could be on the line for the county’s library district.

It comes after Klamath County commissioners told the library they didn’t want it to appear that the library was endorsing a political position.

“I don’t need programs being offered by one of my departments further dividing my community,” Klamath County commissioner Derrick DeGroot. “I don’t need it. It was a bonehead move.”

Klamath County commissioners spoke out against a controversy at the county library involving one of its book clubs.

“I‘m fine with book clubs, I think they’re wonderful,” commissioner Dave Henslee said. “I just can’t get on board with people complaining, because there will be complaints, i’m telling you right now, that the government is influencing those discussions.”

After complaints from residents, a Klamath County book club session was canceled last month because the club featured a book called “No More Police.”

At a meeting on May 3, library officials said Klamath County commissioners told the library it couldn’t endorse or sponsor any political position, in the group or ones like it. 

As a result, Library officials said they had to cancel the book group until further notice.

That decision could cost it it’s ‘public library’ status, according to the ‘Oregon Library Association.’

Library director Nathalie Johnston said the association believes its guidelines could be violated.

“We would not be able to receive grant money from the state library,” she said. “The biggest grant we receive is around $20,000 a year for our summer reading program and our kids programming.”

In total, Johnston said the library is at risk of losing roughly $30,000 in annual state grant funding, if it’s no longer a public library.

According to the county’s website, the library service district is funded through property tax revenue and the grant.

A member of the library’s advisory board, Lois Taysom, voiced her concerns at a meeting this Wednesday after commissioners suggested volunteers should oversee book clubs. 

“Library staff should not be making decisions about what’s political,” she said. “The idea of volunteers, volunteers are really a wonderful idea, but i don’t think you understand the extent of what you’re suggesting.”

Though commissioners have gotten involved in the matter, commissioner DeGroot said he does not want to censor people.

“No one is censoring what anyone can or cannot read,” he said. “Or, materials that are going to be in the library or not in the library. We want to offer everything. We’re talking about a program offered by the government, we don’t censor that we decide what we’re going to offer.

We reached out to Klamath County Board of Commissioners and the Oregon Library Association for additional comment.

We have not heard back from either group.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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