OI-backed Allendale School Board members concerned about library link on district website

ALLENDALE TWP. — A link to a library website has become a source of concern for some members of the Allendale Public Schools Board of Education.

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During a work session Monday, March 27, the board discussed a “website concern” regarding eBooks. The discussion stemmed from a link to the Lakeland Library Cooperative available on a subpage of the district website.

A link to a library website has become a source of concern for some members of the Allendale Public Schools Board of Education.
A link to a library website has become a source of concern for some members of the Allendale Public Schools Board of Education.

The Lakeland Library Cooperative is a network of 42 libraries in eight counties, including libraries in Allendale, Holland, Grand Haven and Zeeland. Its website allows users to search for books and, if they have a library card, check out items online. It also allows for previews of materials, which vary in length.

Ottawa Impact-affiliated board members Liz Ramey and Anna Hendricks said they're concerned elementary school children may be able to access explicit material through the previews.

“I was concerned about some of our elementary students possibly getting on there and searching for things parents may not know about,” Ramey said, adding she wants a better understanding of how the school filters content.

Hendricks cited a book titled “Slow Play” that had a preview of 57 pages.

“I was kind of appalled,” she said. “There was a lot of obscenity, it’s totally adult content. A lot of profanity.”

Board member Pam DeJonge said students looking for the kind of material Ramey and Hendricks mentioned would use Google, not a library website, and that Monday’s discussion was a way to start something bigger.

“I think this is just a way of nitpicking and starting a book ban,” DeJonge said. “I’m not in favor of eliminating ways of obtaining information. I understand some parents don’t want their children reading things. That responsibility is on those parents. They have those rights and that responsibility.”

Hendricks then cited board policy 7540.03 which states, in part, that the district will use software to “restrict access to child pornography and other material that is obscene, objectionable, inappropriate and/or harmful to minors.”

Ramey said she wasn’t looking to ban access to the site for older students, but wants to keep elementary age students from accessing inappropriate material using internet filters.

“Can we lock it from the younger kids … or block the content if they search for something that would be inappropriate for their age? That would be good information,” Ramey said.

Board member Kim Cannata said she understands the policy concern, but isn’t in favor of removing the link. She said she thinks it’s a “very, very slim possibility” students would access explicit material given the process to get to the site.

Accessing the library website through the APS website takes several clicks. First, students would have to open the district homepage, then navigate to the high school page. From there, they'd click the media center page, where they can find the “eBooks” link that goes to Lakeland Library Cooperative’s website.

Superintendent Garth Cooper said the link to the library website has been on the district’s site for more than a decade, from his understanding. When the district committed to providing each student with technology around 2010, APS sought a way to have eBooks available.

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Most providers were “pretty pricey,” he said, but the library system offered a way to provide access to books at no cost to the district.

No action was taken by the board Monday. Board President Corey Mango said more information is needed before placing the item on the agenda for a vote at the next meeting.

“I don’t see this as going to the voting meeting,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to solve this today. When we get more information, we can narrow in on some things.”

Ten people offered public comment during the meeting, each referencing the eBooks topic. Most spoke in favor of the library link staying on the website, while three said it was a concern. Among the speakers was Carol Dawe, director of the Lakeland Library Cooperative.

“This is just nonsense,” Dawe said. “You’re doing this without the information that you need to understand what's really going on.

“We can help, we can figure out what the best needs are here, but we don’t really want to ban books. Let’s have a conversation and figure out what this is all about so we can get you some answers.”

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One public commenter said students having access to the library’s full catalog is “not OK” because of the book previews. She compared the situation to a movie theater not allowing minors to sample portions of R-rated movies.

Another said a public library isn’t an online source parents should be worried about.

“As parents, we have a great many sources to be concerned about,” she said. “Public libraries don’t make this list for me.”

— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: OI-backed Allendale School Board members concerned about library link