Kenai will reconsider library grant after controversial postponement

Dec 3, 2021

Kenai residents raised over $15,000 for the Kenai Community Library this fall, after the Kenai City Council postponed a health equity grant over concerns about funding.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Correction: The item approved Wednesday night was to reintroduce the ordinance. The council will do a final vote on the ordinance Dec. 15. We regret the error.

The Kenai Community Library will vote again on a federal grant to purchase health and wellness materials for its shelves, following a controversial decision to hold off on accepting the grant that had many crying censorship.

The money in question comes from the National Library of Medicine Region 5, run out of the University of Washington. The Kenai Library won $1,500 as part of a Collection Equity Outreach Award, geared toward funding library collections nationwide that focus on health equity.

At an October meeting, the council decided to hold off on accepting the money amid concerns from council members and the public about taking money from the feds. The council asked Kenai librarian Katja Wolfe to provide a list of titles she planned to buy with the grant.

That decision sounded alarm bells on social media. A fundraiser that arose in response for the library's fundaising arm, the Friends of the Kenai Community Library, brought in over $15,000 — 10 times the amount in the original grant. Donors included members of the council and employees of the Kenai city government. The council will have to vote on accepting that money separately at a future meeting.

Jane Fuerstenau is president of the Friends of the Kenai Library. She asked the council Wednesday to accept the grant without first screening a list of titles.

"When you requested to see a list of titles before approving the ordinance at the Oct. 20 meeting, you alarmed community members and gave the impression that there’s titles you might forbid from including," she said.

Wolfe did not send a list of titles to the council ahead of Wednesday's vote. In a letter dated Nov. 12, she said titles will be chosen by library staff and listed possible book topics, including Medicare and Medicaid, mental health and chronic stress.

Wednesday's vote was to reintroduce the ordinance for consideration. The council will do a final vote Dec. 15.