The Kenai City Council is holding off on accepting money from the National Library of Medicine until the Kenai Library can provide the council with a list of books it plans to get with the grant.
The money comes from the National Library of Medicine Region 5, which is run out of the University of Washington and covers several western states. The Kenai Library won $1,500 from the library as part of a Collection Equity Outreach Award, geared toward funding library collections nationwide that focus on health equity.
But at Wednesday’s city council meeting, multiple commenters said they worried about accepting the grant from the feds.
Dave Peck, of Kenai, said he’s concerned about the use of the word “equity’ in the award description.
“I think equity can create division rather than unity," he said. "And I’m wondering if this is enhancing some sort of a federal agenda or requirements that are attached to this money which would not necessarily represent the views of the people of Kenai, or even the city council.”
The ordinance said the city will focus on purchasing materials “for underrepresented groups based on census data and informal community conversations.”
In her letter to the council, librarian Katja Wolfe said health literacy is an important factor in reducing health disparities. She said she plans to buy books on topics including self-care and healthy habits, as well as reference books about Medicare and Medicaid and specific medical conditions, like cancer.
Council member Teea Winger said she’s concerned about the organization awarding the funding. The National Library of Medicine is a program of the National Institute of Health, run by the federal government.
“When I looked into the Network of the National Library of Medicine, their content that they put out isn't anything in reference with the items that we’d be carrying," she said. "All their content was based off of COVID, getting the vaccine — without getting too in depth, everything that they had posted was really COVID related.”
City Manager Paul Ostrander said decisions about books are left to the discretion of the librarian.
“I wanted you to know that there’s already, every year, over $60,000 of books that she purchases," he said. "And I do think that looking at each one of those, title by title, and determining which are or are not appropriate, is a very slippery slope that we need to be careful of.”
Council member Henry Knackstedt said he’s checked out books from the library that were previously banned from schools and libraries.
“I would be cautious about anybody finding a title that they question and kind of reject because of the perception, kind of like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer or any one of those," he said. "And it’s kind of a slippery slope to go on.”
The council agreed to postpone the ordinance until the first meeting of November, until the librarian can come up with a list of titles she will buy with the grant.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council approved a grant from the American Library Association for the Kenai City Library to partner with NASA on an education initiative.