Little Free Library sparks controversy, discussion surrounding flag policy

Sep 15, 2023

ROCHESTER — Concerns about whether a diversity flag should be allowed to fly on Plumb Library property and if a Little Free Diverse Library should be located outside the official town library were raised, at times heatedly, at the Rochester Board of Library Trustees Sept. 14 meeting.

One resident at the meeting proposed building a “pro-family and pro-freedom little library’’ on the Plumb Library site if the Little Free Diverse Library is allowed. 

The Rochester Board of Library Trustees will review and propose policies related to these concerns at its Sept. 28 meeting.

The Little Free Diverse Library sits outside Plumb Library’s entrance and was built by the non-profit organization Tri-Town Against Racism.

In July, a diversity flag that flew on the Little Free Diverse Library was removed following the adoption of a new flag policy by the Rochester Select Board on July 10. 

According to the flag policy, only certain flags can be flown on town flagpoles “to keep it simple,” said Rochester Town Administrator Glenn Cannon. 

The flags are: The United States flag, the Massachusetts state flag, the Rochester town flag, the POW flag and official flags of United States military branches, according to the policy.

However, according to Rochester Board of Library of Trustees Chair Kelley Medeiros, the Plumb Library is not recognized as town property and therefore does not fall under the purview of Rochester town policy.

“Mass General law states that the library trustees are in charge of building grounds, and everything to do with the library other than the budget, the budget still is voted by the Selectmen,” said Rochester Select Board Chair Paul Ciaburri, who was present in the audience. “We did not know this until recently, until the question was asked, and we got clarity on it.”

So far, said Medeiros, the library has adopted several town policies that deal with employment and personnel, but has not yet adopted the town’s flag policy. 

According to Medeiros, a vote to adopt the town’s flag policy will be held at the Rochester Board of Library Trustees’ next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28.

“In all transparency, I would like to see the town flag policy adopted so we have standardization,” she said.

Medeiros added that the decision to approve Tri-Town Against Racism’s Little Free Diverse Library — and the diversity flag that flew on it — was made in January, 2021, before any current library trustees, or Library Director Kristen Cardoso, joined the board.

“We are all working through this problem together. I understand that you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated that my staff is facing issues with the public about this — about an issue that we were not involved in,” said Medeiros. “[We’re] trying to clarify, based [on] new information … where the library falls … so that we can make informed decisions.”

But according to a statement read by members of Tri-Town Against Racism, the issue is no longer about flag policy — it is about what the diversity flag stands for. 

“The objection to the diversity flag isn’t about adherence to town policy,” wrote the group in a statement that was read aloud at the meeting. “For a couple of people it conflicts with their religious beliefs … is religious objection to a flag more important than the sense of inclusion and acceptance that our LGBTQIA+ community members feel when they walk past that flag?”

During the meeting’s public comment portion, Rochester resident Sandra Bock described some books in the Little Free Diverse Library, which include "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe, as “sexually pornographic materials.”

Gender Queer was one of 10 books in Old Rochester Regional High School libraries that were challenged by Mattapoisett residents.

“Children should remain innocent until they reach the maturity level in making responsible judgments for their lives, along with the help of their families,” said Bock.

In addition to objections to the content of the library, several Rochester residents called Tri-Town Against Racism’s little free library redundant. 

“I think a library outside of a library is just a ridiculous idea,” said Rochester resident Michael Costa. “I have no problem with any of the books that are in there, they should be in the library. I'm not into book burning or book banning — put the books in the library, that's where they belong.”

For Board of Library Trustees Co-Chair Shauna Makuch, Plumb Library is “ the very definition of inclusivity, acceptance and diversity.”

“I do feel like having a little library about inclusivity and diversity outside of our library [that is diverse and inclusive] is extremely redundant,” she said. “I hope that this is something we talk about more in-depth.”

According to Medeiros, the Board of Library Trustees will draft a policy to handle donations “of all kinds of physical property” and will present that draft policy at its Sept. 28 meeting. This policy will include donations of Little Free Libraries, said Medeiros.

“If it's our property, we control the content. If we control the content, that defeats the purpose of the [little free library,]” said Medeiros. “So if it defeats the purpose of the [little free library], because it is duplicative of the purpose of the library, then either [Tri-Town Against Racism] can remove the [little free library], which would be okay for them to decide to do, or we will need to empty the [little free library].”

Pro-family and pro-freedom libraries

Rochester resident Jeffrey Costa proposed the construction of pro-family and pro-freedom libraries outside Plumb Library to be erected next to Tri-Town Against Racism’s Little Free Diverse Library.

According to Costa, the proposed pro-family library would contain books like “Elephants are not Birds” by Ashley St. Clair, “Little Lives Matter” by Elizabeth Johnston, and “Island of Free Ice Cream” by Jack Posobiec.

These books are published by Brave Books, a publishing company that states its mission is to “help parents instill a love of truth in their children so that the children will be able to withstand harmful progressive influences,” according to the organization’s website.

In August, the Mattapoisett Republican Town Committee hosted a reading of Brave Books’ “As you Grow,” by Kirk Cameron. This reading saw protests from the Mattapoisett Democratic Town Committee. 

The pro-family library would also contain books on financial planning and about the financial benefits of marriage, said Costa.

Costa said the proposed pro-freedom library would contain books teaching American and Western civics and history, “The Killing Series” by Bill O’Reilly which covers American history; “The Conceived in Liberty Series” by Murray Rothbard, as well as books promoting civic engagement. 

This list of books for the two proposed libraries is not complete, he said. 

According to Costa, he would pursue the construction of these libraries until Tri-Town Against Racism’s little free library is removed or until library policy denies all little free libraries on its property. 

In a letter to the Board of Library Trustees, Costa noted that his libraries would be paid for through fundraising efforts, “but I would expect the Rochester facilities manager to install the structures similar to the diversity library.”

Ciaburri noted that the town’s flag policy was implemented “because of problems just like this they had in Boston.”

“We adopted [the flag policy] to head it off at the pass so that we wouldn't have this problem,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not cut and dry … the library is a different situation, but if [the library decides] to adopt the town policy then that will fix this in the future.”