Rumford Public Library trustees and library Director Tamara Butler, left, meet with interim Town Manager Scott Cole, right, at a trustees meeting Monday. From left are Butler, trustee Chairwoman Carolyn Kennard, Trustees Jerrold Cohen, Maureen Cook, Jane Shuck and Linda Macgregor, and Cole. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

RUMFORD — Trustees of the Rumford Public Library on Monday defended their selection of books for monthly displays, telling interim Town Manager Scott Cole they don’t have a political agenda and they are following library policy.

What started out as a Dixfield resident’s complaint to Cole led him to seek information on the library’s banned book and other book displays.

Rumford Interim Town Manager Scott Cole, right, speaks during a Rumford Public Library trustees meeting on Monday with library trustee Linda Macgregor seated beside him. Cole questioned the trustees and the library staff about their banned books and other book displays. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

After an April meeting with library Director Tamara Butler to discuss who chooses the books on display and why they are chosen, Cole was not satisfied with what he heard from Butler, he said.

Letters were exchanged from Cole to the library trustees in which he said, “Without new information to consider, the current practice of regarding ‘banned books’ seems tantamount to providing certain individual town employees with their own political platforms during work hours.

“As a town manager, holding charter-based supervisory authority over all town employees, I have to wonder if this is really a good idea for the workforce? Individual political expression by employees is not allowed on ‘town time and the town’s dime’ in other areas of municipal employment. Why should library employees be treated differently? That is a question that must be asked.”

On Monday, following Cole’s request to attend the trustees meeting to talk about the book displays, he and more than a dozen local residents were there to have their say on the library’s book displays.

At the meeting, Cole told the crowd about his concern for “some ambiguity as far as the banned books specifics.”

Butler responded: “You did misunderstand and I’m not going to let you misrepresent what I said. I told you clearly that the books for the banned books were chosen from the American Library Association’s books from the most contested books from the year before.

Residents of Rumford and area towns attend the Rumford Public Library trustees meeting Monday to hear and address interim Town Manager Scott Cole regarding his questions about banned books and other displays at the library. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

“I also told you that I do supervise what topics are done and what books, and I’m really tired of you saying I didn’t. I’m not going to let someone misrepresent (what I said),” Butler said.

Adult services librarian Mary Ann Fournier, who set up the LGBTQ book display for June, told Cole she was “extremely offended” because she had met with him three times and he did not remember her.

“I felt extremely offended that we’ve met three times and I understand you’ve been here 20 weeks but I’m going to be quite frank when I say how many multi-colored-hair people do you meet in one small town?” she asked.

“I’m not going to lie, my feelings were extremely hurt, and I didn’t feel like a valued worker in this town,” Fournier said. “I’m the only double town employee in this town so that was an extra hurt.”

Fournier is registrar of voters, Cole said.

“Secondly, I will say, and this is going to sound extremely stupid because of the month, I am here, I am queer and I am flipping proud to be,” Fournier said.

Cole restated that his main concern about the displays “was that the selection of ideas, the selection of materials didn’t seem to have any relationship to a policy that the trustees had adopted, some sort of general condonement.

“It’s like a free-for-all,” he said. “It just seemed like it was employees doing as they please, on town time and town dime.”

Trustee Chairwoman Carolyn Kennard responded to Cole’s assertion, saying, “Excuse me sir, but we do (have a policy). It goes through Tamara and they have the right to (decide). They just don’t put up any old thing; it’s usually because we’re looking at something that’s going on and a particular month. And this happens to be gay pride month so that’s what we have.”

Chris Brennick, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said, “There needs to be some kind of clear policy. I’m very supportive of (the) banned books display, so in the community that doesn’t like it for whatever reason, right, wrong or indifferent, there’s a policy to go back to that treats all content equally by just trying to take some of that question out of it.”

John Freeman of Mexico requested a copy of the library’s exhibit and display policy, which was approved by the trustees on May 6. He read it aloud at the request of some in the crowd. It said the library director must approve all materials for display or exhibit. Also exhibits in the Children’s Library must be of interest and appropriate for children, according to the policy.

The policy says “materials exhibited do not necessarily represent the views or imply the endorsement of the library trustees, administration, or staff.”

Cole said he was satisfied with the policy.

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