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Orem Library accused of censorship over removal of celebratory displays

By Genelle Pugmire - | Nov 25, 2022
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This undated photo shows a Pride Month display in the children's section of the Orem Public Library.
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Orem City employees wear indigenous footwear in celebration of "Rock Your Moc Day" during Native American Heritage Month in November.

The children’s collection at the Orem City Library is the largest in the state of Utah, with 97,000 children’s books, pamphlets, magazines, read-alongs and other offerings, but something missing from the library is the assorted displays once representing the national heritage months.

At the beginning of the year, the Library Advisory Commission approved the various book displays, visuals and some activities for the year, according to Amy Carr, a former part-time employee and member of the Utah Valley Parents Alliance.

The library celebrated Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

But when it came to June and LGBT Pride Month, the displays were gone, and every month since — comprising Hispanic Heritage Month in September and Native American Heritage Month in November — the displays have been done away with.

The Utah Library Association and leaders from Equality Utah, PFLAG Provo/Utah County and the Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce called on Orem City Council members to publicly and transparently address their actions in this matter, rescind any directives they have given to the library related to displays of materials and commit to refraining from future directives that seek to restrict library staff from carrying out the mission of the library or directives that seek to limit access to information for the residents of Orem.

Rumblings from former employees, members of the Utah Valley Parents Alliance and other residents surfaced with concerns the library is being censored or scrutinized by city leaders and pressure is being applied to library Director Charlene Crozier.

According to city spokeswoman Karen Tapahe, “The city will not be providing a statement (regarding the displays).” Most officials were off for the Thanksgiving holiday when the Daily Herald sought a response.

In 2021, the library’s LGBT Pride Month display drew the attention of Terry Peterson, a city council member who wrote in a letter, “As a lifelong resident of Orem, I couldn’t be more disgusted or outraged. This is not the role of a tax-funded library.”

Those complaints were at the forefront for employees and supporters of the library as the month began — with some questioning whether it would affect the budget for the library.

According to Crozier, worries about the budget were unfounded. Eventually, the city unanimously approved the budget.

A tweet by Emma Ramirez brought the attention of residents, city staff, outsiders and leaders from the Utah Library Association.

“They claim to represent the city and that they are concerned by displays like this because they don’t represent the city in some way,” Ramirez, a former employee of the library who helped design the display last year, told the Daily Herald, adding that she wanted to show there is a strong LGBT community in Orem.

Rather than having multiple displays of LGBTQ books, as it did in 2021, the Orem library this year opted to have a single display in the adult books section.

According to Carr, at the beginning of August, a new policy was implemented “that there were to be no more visual representations of national heritage months or any ‘small group of people,’ anywhere in the library.”

“In the August and September recorded minutes of the Library Commission meetings, no mention is made regarding this policy or the change in plans. No major stakeholders, department heads, nor any employees were consulted regarding this policy and when they’ve asked for information, the responses from library administration have been vague,” she said.

“On Sept. 13, I spoke during the public comment section at the Orem City Council meeting on this issue where Charlene Crozier finally got up and took responsibility for issuing the ban. This statement was made in a public meeting, although no mention of it has been made since and the mayor continues to deny that there is a policy forbidding visual displays recognizing heritage months or minority groups,” Carr added.

Some residents are questioning the seeming act of censorship, saying the city appeared to be sending out mixed messages on how they feel about the LGBT community, considering the city’s own police department wore Pride badges on their uniforms the entire month of June.

According to Chief Josh Adams, the decision was made with full awareness of the month’s history. Adams said he wanted to make sure LGBTQ people in Orem know they will be protected by the city’s police.

The same is true for the Hispanic community, with more that 17% of the Orem area speaking Spanish in their home. Two percent of the city’s population are people of Asian descent and 1% are Pacific Islanders.

While the library chose not to do anything for Native American Heritage Month, the city again celebrated with a “Rock Your Mocs Day” and recognized the various Native American tribes indigenous to the area.

“Native American Heritage Month is happening now. But tragically, just as with Hispanic Heritage Month and Pride Month, the Orem Library refuses to promote Native American book displays in the children and teen areas despite past popularity,” said Christine Crane, of the Utah Valley Parent Alliance, in a email to the Daily Herald.

“The secret banning of National Heritage Month book displays amounts to racism by ignoring different communities and assumes a uniformity that simply does not reflect or support Orem’s diverse population,” she added.

“The lines between library governance and overall city leadership are severely blurred and lines are being crossed. Orem Library is operating without any checks and balances. Decisions are being made and implemented without full disclosure or input from key stakeholders. Monies are being spent without adherence or governance to the requirements set forth in order to be eligible for these resources. These violations have created a dangerous environment at the library where directors and administrators are allowed, or compelled, to make decisions without any accountability,” Carr said.

“This policy has a deep impact on the community that Orem Library serves,” she added. “We need diverse books on display every day, all year long, so all children in our community see themselves reflected in the stories they read. Diverse books can prompt family discussions about race and ethnicity. Children can’t see what we don’t show them. Library displays bring those special books, that may go unseen, in view for our families that can help dismiss stereotypes, foster empathy and inspire children to be inclusive.”

According to Carr, the Orem Library has cut off connection to the Utah Library Association, which assists librarians throughout the state with training and support.

“I believe that connection is gone but don’t know the details,” city spokeswoman Tapahe acknowledged.

In representing the Utah Valley Parents Alliance, Carr said, “The public library holds powerful conduits to seeing, learning and educating ourselves about the people around us. Visual representations help lead us to resources that we didn’t know existed. And these resources have the potential to break down prejudice, fear, racism and ignorance as well as build bridges to greater compassion, understanding and empathy. We don’t want these valuable opportunities to not be seen and to (be) removed from our community.”


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