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The grant, awarded by Region 5 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, was to be used to replace outdated health and wellness materials, Kenai Community Library Director Katja Wolfe told the council during the Oct. 20 meeting.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

The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska House passes budget with roughly $2,275 payments to residents, bill goes to Senate

The bill also includes a roughly $175 million, one-time increase in aid to school districts that would be paid according to a funding formula

The Kenai River flows near Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. The Riverfront Redevelopment project will impact much of Soldotna’s riverside areas downstream to the bridge. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna riverfront redevelopment planning moves forward

Soldotna City Council on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a project manager to shepherd the Riverfront Redevelopment Project

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Corey Cannon, who plays baseball as part of Soldotna Little League, speaks to the Soldotna City Council during their meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday.
Soldotna Little League receives donation for facility repairs

The city owns the fields, but the Little League leases the land and is responsible for the maintenance of the facilities

Aleutian Airways logo. Photo courtesy of Aleutian Airways
Aleutian airways to halt Homer service during runway project

Service will be suspended beginning April 15

tease
Homer pedestrian pathway project selected for federal funding

The project will create greater nonmotorized transportation access in Homer

Vendors speak to attendees of the Kenai Peninsula Job and Career Fair in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Job Fair draws employers, seekers

The Job Center has options and opportunities to connect people with training, coaching and funding

Vanessa Uei checks in guests during a grand opening for AK Wellness & Tanning in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, April 6, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
AK Wellness & Tanning holds grand opening for new location

The expanded location is along the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai

The Kenai Senior Center’s dining space is readied for the annual March for Meals fundraiser in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Photo by Ken Aaron, provided by Kenai Senior Center)
March for Meals raises funds to support senior food service

The local event was organized by Kenai Senior Connection and hosted at the Kenai Senior Center

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
An array of solar panels stand in the sunlight at Whistle Hill in Soldotna on Sunday.
Federal grant awarded for Whistle Hill solar project

The annual production of the completed system is estimated to be enough electricity to power 19 homes

Most Read