With a new chair, rural North Idaho's Community Library Network is now in the hands of a far-right majority

Jun. 15—After seating two new members and electing a new chair Thursday morning, control of the Community Library Network in North Idaho has shifted to a new a majority with plans to restrict books from children.

The board rejected the recommendation of a nominating committee to retain longtime trustee Katie Blank as chair and to elect Rachelle Ottosen as vice chair.

Instead, the board elected Ottosen as chair and new board member Tom Hanley as vice chair.

Board member Vanessa Robinson, who made up the nominating committee along with outgoing member Judy Meyer, said she was "shocked," since she met with each board member individually and thought they were all on the same page.

"Each person agreed, with so much change happening, it would be a prudent move to keep as much leadership in place as possible," Robinson said.

The Community Library Network serves seven libraries in Kootenai County outside of Coeur d'Alene, and part of Shoshone County.

A small crowd filled the tiny Spirit Lake branch to capacity Thursday, leaving some people standing in the stacks. At the meeting, Ottosen said she did not want to be chair, but that she would accept the job.

"I don't want to be chair, but the voters have asked for a change in direction," she said.

During public comment before the meeting, several librarians and former librarians defended the role of libraries and the importance of fighting against censorship.

Hanley and Tim Plass were elected to the board in May, replacing moderates Meyer and Regina McCrea. Hanley and Plass campaigned on keeping explicit books out of children and teen sections. They agreed Ottosen was more in line with the direction they want to take the board.

Ottosen has been vocal against LGBTQ programs and books for children. She also testified to the Idaho Legislature in support of recent obscenity bills targeting libraries and librarians.

Blank said that as chair, she has done her best to make sure the board follows the law, follows parliamentary procedure and "stays fair and respectful to the entire community," and that she would continue to do so if she remained the chair.

Hanley said the board still has access to Blank's institutional knowledge as a board member.

"Katie is definitely knowledgeable and capable, but it has been made progressively harder for me to get things on the agenda, and that's a primary concern right now," Ottosen said.

"The chair position is a lot more than you think," Robinson told Ottosen. "I honestly don't think you are up for that position."

Ottosen said she hopes someone else will take over the chair a year from now, and that it will be good training for Hanley to be vice chair.

Both Plass and Hanley said during their campaigns they'd like to review books on a list created by CleanBooks4Kids.com.

The website has been a rallying cry for concerned parents and has listed books that are part of the library network's catalog, along with pictures and excerpts from those books.

A message on the website now reads: "Due to an upcoming change of board members in the Community Library Network, the sexually-explicit books for minors found in our local libraries will likely be reclassifed to Adult. Due to those pending changes, this site will be down while revisions are made."

Since December 2021, the library network has received 13 forms from citizens requesting certain library materials be reconsidered, executive director Alexa Eccles said. One item, a children's book about racial injustice called "Something Happened in our Town," was appealed to the board in May. The board determined to keep the book classified in the juvenile fiction collection.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.