In recent months, a mailbox-sized Little Free Diverse Library, its glass front requesting, “Diverse and Anti-Racist Books Only,” has been sitting on a post outside the Plumb Public Library’s front entrance.
The little library has drawn criticism, as Rochester residents crowded into the Senior Center meeting room for a Board of Library Trustees meeting on September 14 to air their objections to it being there and ask that it be removed.
According to the letters read into the record and those speaking during the meeting’s public-comment period, the main complaints are that it’s redundant to have a little library right outside a big library, that it offers messages on issues that not everyone in town agrees with, and that it’s not a message that should be accessible to children.
Rochester resident (and Zoning Board of Appeals member) Jeffrey Costa suggested in a letter to the library board that a “little pro-family” and “a little pro-freedom” be constructed next to the “Diversity Library. … Funds will be raised for the construction of the project and expects the Facilities Manager to install a similar structure,” the letter reads.
A letter from Costa’s mother, Roxanne Costa, said that as a Christian woman, she objected to seeing the LGBTQ political agenda being portrayed on her way into the library. Another letter said putting a little library in front of a big library is “silly and not necessary.” Referencing the Rainbow flag that once accompanied the little library (until a new town policy required taking the flag down), still another said the American flag is all that needs to fly in such a public place because it represents everyone.
When it was time for public speakers, the first was Rhonda Baptiste, vice president of Tri-Town Against Racism, the group that donated the little library to Rochester. TTAR has planted two similar Little Free Diverse libraries, at Ned’s Point in Mattapoisett and at Old Landing in Marion. Baptiste noted her group followed a careful, detailed, vetting process with library leaders that included photographs of the specific plan before they received the go-ahead.
Retired teacher Sandra Bock took a cautious posture, stating that the books in the little library, some of which she withdrew to see what was within their covers, include graphic content to which she said children should not be exposed. “I want to keep children essentially innocent and away from sensitive material until they are ready for it,” she said.
Stacie Schneider said children should be informed, not kept from being informed. “Childhood is time for them to learn, not be programmed into a narrow point of view,” she said.
Another speaker, also in support of the little library, said its existence made him finally feel recognized as a gay man. “Everyone matters,” he said.
TTAR supporter Susan McQuire doubled down on the group’s desire to spread more awareness of diversity and inclusion across the tri-towns. She said the group would like to fly the Black Lives Matter and the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) flag at its little libraries at different times as well. “This is all about human stuff!” she said. “About human beings that we need to support.”
The trustees responded by noting the decision to accept the little library came in January 2021 before any of the current board members or even the current library director was in charge. They have only recently been informed by Town Counsel that the library, not the town, controls its own assets, such as the Plumb Library building and the donated little library. They are in a transition period, they said, needing to create their own management rules and will decide a course of action at their next meeting on Thursday, September 28.
But before this motion, Board of Trustees Chairperson Kelley Mederios hinted what direction the panel may go in. She said the trustees have two options: developing their own regulations or adopting the town’s. The town’s policy on flying flags is to only display town, state, federal and military flags. She said she proposes adopting town policy but creating policies for what assets the library itself controls. Medeiros noted, for instance, that anything donated to the library becomes its property.
“We can ask TTAR to remove it or we empty it,” she said.
Trustee Shauna Makuch echoed this by agreeing that a little library outside a big library with likely the same books as rather redundant.
In a separate interview, TTAR Marketing Director Jessica DeCicco-Carey noted Rochester is the only one of the three towns to respond with any pushback to one of the group’s little diversity libraries.
While the Little Library in Rochester is receiving substantial opposition at municipal public meetings, the Little Library at Ned’s Point was vandalized in December 2021 but rebuilt that winter. Little libraries have also been vandalized in other Massachusetts towns.
The Library Board of Trustees will meet next on Thursday, September 28, at 6:30 pm at a location yet to be determined.
Editor’s note: TTAR Marketing Director Jessica DeCicco-Carey is the daughter of the author’s cousin.
Rochester Public Library Trustees