Sonoma County Library Commission may consider removing Black Lives Matters, Pride flags from branches
In response to concerns the community “could get upset,” the Sonoma County Library Commission will discuss establishing a policy on what regional library branches are allowed to post and display in individual locations. The policy could dictate the types of banners and flags library branches are able to hang, including Black Lives Matters and Pride flags.
The commission has directed library staff to prepare background materials for a future Library Commission meeting, said Sonoma County Library Communications Manager and Public Information Officer Ray Holley. No action has been taken at this time and more information will be available at a later date. However, the discussion could come as early as the Feb. 2023 meeting and is a response to an orchestrated effort of a handful of commissioners, who, since Oct. 2022 have expressed discomfort over not having a policy in place.
The Library has a policy for internal postings by outside entities, Interim Library Director Erika Thibault said in the Jan. 4, 2023 Library Commission meeting. This policy prevents items of hate speech from being posted in the library by outside patrons. It also allows for nonpartisan and nonsectarian information, Thibault said.
But, the policy, as Rohnert Park Commissioner Barbara Mackenzie noted, does not dictate what branch managers can display in each branch.
“The issue is with political and semi-political posters and banners,” Mackenzie said during the Jan. 4, 2023 commission meeting. Mackenzie specifically cited the Black Lives Matters banners and “large Pride posters in and around the branches” as examples of the types of posters and banners a so-called internal posting policy would need to cover.
At least two commissioners, including Mackenzie, and Petaluma’s appointee, Paul Heavenridge, expressed consternation over a lack of policy that allows the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags to hang in the branches indefinitely.
“My concern is that there is no policy,” Heavenridge said. “The community, which can get upset...could come in and post something hate-filled. If people get upset, we can say, ‘Well, this is our policy.’ Right now it’s just up to the branch manager.”
Thibault said branch managers work closely with the library’s division manager on seasonal book displays, giving each branch a similar look and feel throughout the county.
“When patrons complain we refer them to the statement of inclusivity, which was approved by you in Feb. 2022,” Thibault told the commission.
Holley added, “branch managers use their own discretion on whether to display the banners. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe they are displayed in all branches.”
The Black Lives Matters banners were first purchased in Feb. 2022 from a black-owned sign-making company from Oregon, Holley said in an e-mail. The Pride banners were designed in-house by the library’s graphic department and became available to each branch in July 2022.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to make libraries welcoming to all, the library periodically displays signs or banners that acknowledge and support key concepts, including Black Lives Matter banners and Pride banners,” Holley said in an email. “These are affirmations of inclusivity, not political statements.”
The purchasing of the Black Lives Matters banners coincided with the strengthening of the Library’s stance on inclusiveness. On Feb. 7. 2022 the commission also approved its statement on racism and social equity.
Library branches have since been attacked for what have been seen as positions, as reported by the Press Democrat and Sonoma Index-Tribune. The Sebastopol Regional Library’s Black Lives Matters banner was first stolen, then later burned in Feb. 2022. A month later, the Sonoma Regional Branch was marked with graffiti expressing racial epithets. In June, an organized effort was led to check out all LGBTQIA books from the Rohnert Park branch and not return them.