Originally published in the Midland Reporter-Telegram

The Midland County Public Library Materials Reconsideration Procedure needs to be updated and clarified to better serve the citizens and library patrons. Citizens concerned about library books in the children’s and or teens’ collection with graphic, descriptive sexual content should care about this process because it is currently the best way to advocate for change.

The Feb. 27 and March 13 Midland County Commissioners’ Court meetings were probably the first time most in the community heard there was a Materials Reconsideration Procedure, which is posted on the Public Libraries page of the county website. Prior to the March 13 meeting, County Commissioner Dianne Anderson submitted a “Reconsideration of Library Materials Form,” which Library Director Debbie Garza stated was the first request received by the library in three years. For those who have submitted a reconsideration, questions have come up where clarification would ensure accountability and instill trust from the community. The following is an explanation of the procedure, the questions that have arisen, and four suggested steps to answer them.

In a March 11 Reporter-Telegram article, Ben Shaffer wrote, “When a patron fills out a reconsideration form, they turn it into the library, which has 10 days to act.” When the procedure says “within 10 business days,” does it mean the patron will receive a letter of acknowledgement of receipt? Or is it as the procedure seems to read as a process where the review and determination will be completed in 10 days? The library director has pointed out a book may be checked out and unavailable for review in this timeframe. That is a reasonable scenario that should be addressed in the procedure so concerned patrons are aware of that possibility. Is 10 business days enough time for a complete review and determination? A first step would be a conversation between the library director and the Commissioners’ Court to clearly define the procedure’s stated timeframe for initial review and determination. Perhaps the other county librarians, who are not currently involved in the process, and the Library Advisory Board providing input for that conversation would be helpful.

Regardless of the timeframe determined for the procedure, what happens to the book if a review is not completed in the set time? This has been a point of frustration for those who have submitted reconsiderations. From March 10 to April 18, 28 reconsiderations for 15 different books were submitted. Anderson did not receive a determination letter until five weeks later. At this pace, a small number of books can be reviewed in a year, and the perception from those who have submitted reconsiderations was that those books remained on the shelves. In an April 24 Reporter-Telegram article, Shaffer reported, “Garza said when a patron fills out a reconsideration form, the library—within 10 days—will take the book off the shelves and notify the patron that their request has been received.” This being added to the procedure would be a second step creating more confidence in the process.

The procedure allows for patrons dissatisfied with the library director’s determination to appeal to the Library Advisory Board, but there is no time frame given for the appeals process. “The majority of the Library Advisory Board will read or view the material in question and make a recommendation.” There are nine voting members on the Library Advisory Board, and as the board meets quarterly, it has formed a review committee to expedite the process. However, the review committee currently only contains three members, while a majority would be five. The library director and board chair are currently clarifying this. Is the timeline for the majority of the board to review and make a recommendation also 10 business days? Is the book removed from circulation when an appeal is filed? Ensuring the board follows the Procedure with a majority making a recommendation within a defined timeline would be a third step in clarifying the process.

Ultimately, a patron can appeal to the Commissioners’ Court where the recommendation of the library director and Library Advisory Board will be presented. The procedure does not say if the patron’s reconsideration form—including their stated concern and the specific objectionable content—is included in what is provided to the commissioners, and no timeline in the procedure is stated. A defined timeline and the addition of the included information provided to the commissioners in this final appeal would be a fourth step.

Updating this procedure in these four ways would answer questions causing frustration and alleviate concerns over how long this process will take for each submitted book. Policies and procedures like these are likely written by the library director or a county commissioner, reviewed by the county attorney, and approved by the commissioners. Updating this reconsideration and appeal procedure should be done thoughtfully so it is clearly defined for all involved. Additional questions to be addressed: How do books enter the library? How are new additions evaluated for the collection they are placed in? “The mission of the Midland County Public Libraries is to efficiently provide citizens excellent and innovative services with integrity, respect, compassion, diligence, accountability and trust.”

For there to be accountability and trust from Midland County residents in the Library Collection Development Policy and the Materials Reconsideration Procedure, some updates and clarifications need to be made.

This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com

Keith Uhles

Keith Uhles is a Reservoir Engineer for CrownRock Minerals in Midland, Texas. Prior to moving to Midland, Keith worked at FC Dallas of Major League Soccer in Frisco, Texas for portions of 6 seasons. Keith is a two-time graduate of Dallas Baptist University, where he met his wife of thirteen years, Becky. They have four kids.

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