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New HEPL Collection Development Policy Will Waste $120,000 in Taxpayer Money

by Cathy Sutton, Noblesville Retired school librarian

The Hamilton East Public Library has recently added several new Board of Trustees members who seem to be determined to override our professional librarians’ collection development decisions—no matter what the cost. In what they say is an effort to protect our youth from accidentally stumbling upon what a few consider inappropriate materials in the library, these four have used their majority votes to push through a new collection development policy. They paid an outside law firm $20,000 to help with the wording of this policy. Basically it states that “written material containing explicit descriptions of sexual conduct” will not be shelved in the Juvenile, Middle, or High School collections. Therefore current books with such content must be moved into the general (adult) section.

As a former secondary school librarian, I know that sex and relationships are often on the minds of young people, and consequently, that is reflected in much of their literature. It would be a very time-consuming process for our librarians to decide which books in these collections contain such “explicit” descriptions and then prepare them to be moved. The experts at HEPL have determined that this process will take at least 8,000 hours. Based on the current minimum pay rate, this would come to at least $100,000.

Since the board has not committed any additional funds to hire staff, I assume this extra work will be added to our already overworked librarians’ plates. What parts of their workload should they skip? Should they stop purchasing new materials? How about they stop promoting reading and books and discontinue all displays and programs? After all, do we really need story times? Maybe they could hide out in a backroom evaluating these questionable books all day long? Of course, then there would be no librarians on the floor to help users find the books that were moved, but I’m sure the public will understand.

Moving these books won't just take up our librarians' time, either. After a determination has been made to move the book, it will need to go back to technical services. This department processes books to make them shelf ready by, among other things, entering the book into the online catalog and attaching necessary labels. Tech services will need to make changes to each book and its online records to reflect its change in location. That will take time away from processing new books, but then again if our librarians don’t have time to purchase new books, this shouldn’t be a problem, right?

As a taxpayer I'm appalled at the idea of spending this much money to "solve" a problem many in our community do not even believe exists. If these board members wish to continue down this path, I believe the public deserves a detailed accounting, in advance, of what this project will cost the taxpayers. Are they ready to defend the need to spend over $120,000 on their pet project?

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