Orem Public Library director retiring amid city censorship claims
On Jan. 24, members of the Orem City Council were informed that Orem Public Library Director Charlene Crozier would be retiring at the beginning of February.
Her departure comes at a time of increased scrutiny over policies at the library and rapid turnover among Orem City personnel.
In the past six weeks, three other top staff members have left Orem, either by resignation, retirement or dismissal. They include Jamie Davidson, city manager; Jody Bates, city recorder; and Steven Downs, deputy city manager and city spokesman. Rita Christensen, former head of the library’s children’s section, also recently departed.
Crozier’s retirement, while a surprise, is not unexpected. Crozier was eligible to retire last September after 30 years of service in Orem City. She stayed on, she said, because she loved her job and her staff.
Before leaving, she submitted a statement to the Daily Herald:
“After 30 years with the City of Orem, I am pleased to announce my retirement. I love this organization and the community that it serves. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given, and it was a privilege and a pleasure to work with so many dedicated employees, elected officials, and volunteers. Individuals from every area of the City have been role models and examples of excellence, hard work, and commitment to this community. I have great respect for those who serve the City of Orem. I appreciate the investment that has been made in the Orem Public Library over many decades. I know the Library is in good hands, and I believe there is a bright future ahead for Orem Library services.”
However, statements made by former library staff, including Crozier herself, have told of frustration at city leadership for what some labeled censorship over what kinds of books and materials the library may display and promote.
In a tape-recorded discussion with Christensen, Crozier said of other library staff, “I just don’t know how to help them because this environment right now is … a tough one, because we have to accept direction in various ways that we may not agree with, that we may not support individually.”
“But, you know, we’ve seen challenges with trying to fight against it as employees and I just don’t want to see anyone else have to go through anything related to what we’ve been through, because … it’s not a good experience,” she continued.
To have some of your greatest problems coming from internal pressures is difficult, Carla Gordon, director of the Provo City Library, told the Daily Herald. “Every library will have complaints, but having it come from your governing body is hard,” she said.
As reported by the Daily Herald, Christensen has claimed that City Council member LaNae Millett, a liaison to the library’s advisory commission, requested that certain books be moved into less visible locations. But in a statement released Monday, acting City Manager Brenn Bybee said that isn’t true.
“Contrary to statements made in the Herald article, Councilmember LaNae Millett did not give any administrative direction regarding those library policies. At the same time, the complaints from a former library employee have identified a lack of clarity in our library policies and that further review is needed. We are absolutely committed to the continued excellence of the Orem Public Library.”
Those claiming censorship say they’ve felt pressured to avoid creating special book displays and programming common during celebrations of national heritage months like the upcoming Black History Month.
Gordon said the Provo library celebrates with heritage month displays and activities that reportedly have been discouraged by city leaders at Orem’s library.
“We do displays, book displays and programs,” Gordon said. “Like for Polynesian month, we had our Monday program with Polynesian dancers.” There were also books and displays to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
EveryLibrary.org, the only 501(c)(4) political action committee for libraries, released a statement Sunday about the “censorship and political meddling” at the Orem Public Library.
“As we know, the public library exists to serve ALL citizens, and reflects our shared American value, embodied in the First Amendment, that we all have the right to conduct our lives, think for ourselves, and explore and engage with ideas and information without government interference,” the statement reads. “When partisan elected politicians overstep and impose their doctrinal beliefs on a public agency charged with providing a wide range of perspectives, they are behaving in an illegitimate manner. When these politicians order a library to censor displays and collections based on topic or viewpoint, they are also violating the first amendment and putting taxpayers at risk of expensive lawsuits.”
Orem’s library is not the only public library in the spotlight.
Legislatures in North Dakota and Montana have discussed to criminalizing librarians who check out or purchase books deemed questionable. Opponents say most often, those are books deal with LGBTQ topics, Black history and other minority communities.
The Deseret News reported in March 2022 “The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 330 incidents of book censorship last fall (2021) alone, a rate ‘not seen in decades,’ according to the National Coalition Against Censorship, and ‘books about LGBTQ people and race and racism’ have been the primary targets.”
The ALA reports that, “For all time, the most frequently banned book is 1984 by George Orwell.” Orem Public Library has several copies of this book in English and Spanish, in audio form and also the motion picture.
Kansas in 2006 attempted a ban on “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, over concerns about unnatural talking animals.
Popular children’s books in the “Junie B. Jones” series came in at No. 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books from 2000 to 2009. Reasons cited, the ALA said, were “poor social values taught by the books, and Junie B. Jones not being considered a good role model due to her mouthiness, bad spelling, and grammar.”
Books like the “Harry Potter” series and the “Twilight” series also frequently receive complaints.
Unrelatedly, during Sunday’s Music and the Spoken Word by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, announcer Lloyd Newell gave his spoken word segment from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and touched on the importance of books and libraries.
“One of these great thinkers was philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, ‘Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations,'” Newell said in a speech titled “The Precious Gift of Books.”
“Libraries exist because we still believe that this treasure, this inheritance is worth preserving — not just for its historical value but also for its current value. Today is a good day to open a book,” he added.