The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone the legislation approving grant funds after members of the community raised concerns about what books would be purchased with the money, as well as the agency awarding the grant. The council will reconsider the legislation on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone the legislation approving grant funds after members of the community raised concerns about what books would be purchased with the money, as well as the agency awarding the grant. The council will reconsider the legislation on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai council to consider library grant again

The council earlier voted to postpone the legislation after concerns were raised about what books would be purchased.

A $1,500 grant awarded to the Kenai Community Library will be back up for consideration by the Kenai City Council on Wednesday. The body voted to postpone the legislation during its Oct. 20 meeting after members of the community raised concerns about what books would be purchased with the money, as well as the agency awarding the grant. The move prompted cries of censorship and the launch of a community fundraiser that raised more than $15,000 for the library.

The grant, awarded by Region 5 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, was to be used to replace outdated health and wellness materials, Kenai Community Library Director Katja Wolfe told the council during the Oct. 20 meeting. Because new members took their seats on the council after the legislation was postponed, the ordinance must be introduced by the new council before a final vote can occur. A vote in favor by the council on Wednesday would re-introduce the legislation, and a public hearing and final vote would be held at the following meeting on Dec. 15.

Included in the council’s packet for Wednesday’s meeting are several comments in favor of allowing the grant to be accepted, most of which were sent at the end of October. Of the eight comments included in the council’s Wednesday packet, seven voiced support for approval of the grant. The other came from Dave Peck, who sought to clarify comments he made during the Oct. 20 meeting.

The letters in support came from community members, the Friends of the Kenai Community Library and from two employees of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and advocated for the qualifications of Wolfe to select library materials

“No city council nor other governmental agency should determine what books should be placed in the library,” wrote Maria and Thomas Allison in an Oct. 25 letter to the council. “Free access to all information is what the library is about. Librarians have always been major defenders of intellectual freedom, long before most people even knew what it was.”

“Professional librarians such as your Kenai City Library Director, are qualified to both make these grant applications, and make subject and title selections for their collections using those funds,” wrote Karen Jensen, the director of libraries at UAF. “It is completely objectionable for anyone outside of the library to dictate specific titles or approve individual resources, without the professional background to understand collection development policies, procedures, and the scope of the collection, as well as the information needs of all local residents.”

“I personally think Katja Wolfe deserves an apology for such an ethical affront from anyone with fewer library credentials, less experience, and less knowledge of our interlinked library than she has. Her treatment at the recent meeting was offensive in the extreme,” wrote Barbara Christian, of Kenai.

Kenai City Council members Henry Knackstedt and Glenese Pettey, who cast two of the three votes in support of accepting the grant on Oct. 20, specified the source of Wolfe’s authority to select library materials in a Nov. 12 memo accompanying the legislation.

Kenai Community Library’s regulations and policies, including “book selection,” are outlined in the City of Kenai’s municipal code. That section says that library materials will be selected based on their “value of interest, information, and enlightenment of all the people of the community.” It goes on to say that both the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement as adopted by the American Library Association will be adhered to. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander confirmed to the Clarion last month that Kenai Municipal Code gives Wolfe the authority to select library materials.

In a Nov. 12 memo to the council, Wolfe again requested that the council approve the grant and offered more information about the Network of the National Library of Medicine, the subject of materials that would be considered and the library’s goal in pursuing the new materials.

“We aim to serve as a resource for reliable health information and to help reduce health disparities in our community by making health information freely available and accessible,” Wolfe wrote. “Health literacy is a 21st century skill that is crucial to understanding health information and making knowledgeable health-related decisions. The award will help us expand our efforts to refresh and replenish our health section with new and updated titles. Your consideration is appreciated.”

Wednesday’s meeting of the Kenai City Council can be viewed live on the city’s YouTube channel.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Data from the state of Alaska show a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in January 2022. (Department of Health and Social Services)
Omicron drives COVID spike in Alaska as officials point to decreasing cases in eastern US

On Friday, the seven-day average number of daily cases skyrocketed to 2,234.6 per 100,000 people

Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire
Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, stands in front of a ship on May 14, 2021.
Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?

Cautious optimism reigns, but operators say it’s too early to tell.

Former Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar speaks a news conference on Jan. 10, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska, after she sued the state. A federal judge on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, ruled that Bakalar was wrongfully terminated by the then-new administration of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy for violating her freedom of speech rights. (AP File Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Judge sides with attorney who alleged wrongful firing

Alaska judge says the firing violated free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel (left) swears in student representative Silas Thibodeau at the Kenai City Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai junior sworn in as council student rep

Thibodeau says he wants to focus on inclusivity and kindness during his term

Branden Bornemann, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the forum on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A voice for this river’

Forum reflects on 25 years protecting peninsula watershed

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Earthquake Center provides information on a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that struck at approximately 8:18 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The quake struck approximately 17 miles southeast of Redoubt volcano or 41 miles southwest of Kenai, Alaska, at a depth of 72.8 miles. (Screenshot)
Quake near Redoubt shakes peninsula

The quake was centered 41 miles southwest of Kenai.

Most Read