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Our View: Colorado librarian wins settlement, our admiration

Librarians really are champions for every patron who walks through their doors. Yes, they get books and information into the hands of people whose lives will be enhanced by them, and take care of all duties in researching, ordering and shelving to make that happen. But the breadth of librarians’ work is broader.

Librarians have no choice but to know their patrons well and what they need. They wear multiple hats from makeshift, stand-in social workers to tutors to even first responders, connecting people with assistance – including emergency services – they may need.

For these reasons, we appreciate that a Weld County library district has agreed to pay $250,000 to Brooky Parks, fired two years ago after Parks objected to the cancellation of programs for youth of color and LGBTQ teens. The payment is part of a legal settlement with the state that also requires the High Plains Library district to revise its policies to be more inclusive. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found the district violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws when firing Brooks.

Brooks, who worked at Erie Community Library, knew well her patrons and her community. She saw what was needed and why. We’re happy to see she will be compensated for work-time lost and more. Right here in Colorado, this public settlement is among the first in the U.S. amid a pushback against LGBTQ- and race-related library books and programming.

This settlement is groundbreaking. It’s also a legal precedent.

Besides the compensation, the district must create an eight-member committee responsible for reviewing library programs that are rejected at the branch level. The review committee must incorporate librarian feedback. Smart choice to include librarians.

On Friday, Parks’ attorney Iris Halpern told The Denver Post: “We’re all hoping this gets people to step back and reframe the issue and think about what’s at stake here –fundamental civil rights and First Amendment rights and students’ rights to access information.”

The library district must revisit program policies to better include a “full variety of community perspectives” and “encourage programming that is inclusive and diverse.”

Just before Parks was fired, the High Plains Library District Board of Trustees approved a policy stating library programs “should not be intended to persuade participants to a particular point of view” or be “intentionally inflammatory or polarizing.”

Read between the lines. Left out is the word “indoctrination” that we opined about in May. We parents are in charge. We don’t hand over authority or responsibility if books not to our liking – even those distasteful or offensive – sit on library shelves.

Following the district’s policy, Brooks did push it. She was also bold and courageous. She was told to rename the “Read Woke” book club because the word “woke” was polarizing, and to cancel two programs she’d planned – a teen anti-racism workshop and a teen program focused on LGBTQ history. Obviously, Brooks’ “Read Woke” book club was intended to get teens’ attentions enough to put down their phones and actually read. The name is kind of silly, too. And we like silly.

With the settlement and recognition that comes with it, Brooks gained ground in the new frontier filled with those bothered by what other people read.

We’ve said before, 2022 went down as the year of momentum to ban books. 2023 may be the year of strong, more organized challenges.

Count the Weld district settlement as one of those challenges.

In addition to precedent, the settlement adds another layer of concrete and rebar to the lawsuit filed in May by Penguin Random House, authors, parents and PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, against the Escambia County School District and School Board in Pensacola, Florida, for removing 10 books related to race and the LGBTQ community.

Plaintiffs alleged both the First and 14th Amendments were violated by “depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints, and depriving the authors of the opportunity to engage with readers and disseminate their ideas to their intended audiences.”

As we await the lawsuit’s outcome, we’re grateful for librarians, ready to help patrons find what they need. Because librarians know about these things.