The Wanderer, Michael DeCicco, October 4, 2023
Rochester’s Library Board of Trustees quickly dispensed with several of its most controversial issues in a stunningly brief meeting on September 28.
The board started its meeting in a Senior Center room crowded with area residents by adopting the town’s flag policy (rather than adopting its own), wherein the library will only fly the flags of the town, the state, the Federal government and the military and, by implication, not those of special-interest groups such as the LBGTQ Rainbow flag.
It then reapproved the library’s gift policy, which was first adopted in March 2008. Citing this policy, which states “Acceptance and utilization of donated materials is at the discretion of the library,” the board then made its most impactful decision of the night.
The board voted to return the Rainbow-flag-lined Little Diverse Library that sits outside Plumb Memorial Library’s front entrance to Tri-Town Against Racism, the community-based group that donated the small mailbox-sized book depository to the town. It is here that the Rainbow flag flew, drawing residents’ complaints that sparked the library to take the flag down.
Before the Little Library vote was taken, Trustee Chairperson Kelley Medeiros explained the motion to give it back to TTAR was based merely on the fact the town library controls its own grounds and staff and must accept gifts such as the Little Diverse Library only under agreed-to provisions.
No such provisions were agreed to when a previous library director and trustees board approved the acceptance of the donation in January 2021, Medeiros said. The contents of the little library would not be under the trustee board’s control.
Medeiros opened discussion on the issue by noting that recently 20 pieces of correspondence received on the issue were in favor of the library, 13 were against, and the grand total of all correspondence received since the issue arose has been 49 in favor of the little library and 18 against. She added, however, that while the board does not support any political agenda, it does have to support its policies.
Rhonda Baptiste, vice president of Tri-Town Against Racism, protested Mederios’ assertion about the lack of an agreed-to provisioning, noting TTAR followed careful steps and did everything the group was asked to do.
“TTAR’s steps to approval didn’t comply with our policy,” Medeiros answered.
“We went through every single step,” TTAR President Alison Noyce said, “every single step.” She said this donation should not be changed just because some people are offended by certain books.
Medeiros responded that the library should be a safe space for everyone. “This is to follow our policies, our gift policy,” she said.
Medeiros then cut off public discussion, as several audience members had their hands raised, and she motioned for a vote. The resulting approval to return the library to TTAR was unanimous, but it was met with shouts of “boo” and “shame” from the crowd.
Next, Medeiros made the crowd equally unhappy by motioning to table indefinitely proposals by Jeffrey Costa and Greg Hardy to install additional little libraries on Plumb library grounds. These proposals, too, passed unanimously. She explained to the crowd that this is merely a way to be fair and consistent with library policy. No provisions/conditions are being proposed for these little libraries either.
Costa, a Rochester resident and Zoning Board of Appeals associate member, had recently suggested in a letter to the library board that a “little pro-family” (library) and “a little pro-freedom” be constructed next to the “Diversity Library” as a counterpoint to the latter’s messaging.
After the meeting adjourned, Medeiros emphasized again that the little library is being returned simply because the steps to approve it did not follow policy. As to why she curtailed public discussion on the issue before the vote, she said, “Because it was debated at the last meeting, the public hearing two weeks ago. We have heard it all. It was time to vote.”
Asked what the group’s next step with Rochester’s little library donation will be, TTAR Marketing Director Jessica DeCicco-Carey frowned and shrugged, saying the group is not really sure what it will do once the little library is returned to them. “We don’t have a decision yet,” she said.
Noyce said Rochester is now the only one of the three towns in the Tri-Town area to reject a Little Diverse Library. “I’m embarrassed for them,” she said.
Rochester Library Trustees