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Manatee County expands library advisory board from 5 to 9 seats

The Citizens Library Advisory Board recommends library policy to the Board of County Commissioners.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Changes could soon come to Manatee County Public Libraries. It is not yet clear what exactly those changes would be but the first step happened with the Manatee County Commissioners' vote to expand the five-member Citizens Library Advisory Board to nine members.

The county commission came to that decision after they discussed a proposal that called for creating an entirely new library advisory board that would decide what would happen to some books at the library.

There were tense moments at the meeting during discussions between county commissioners and passionate community members who aired their views. 

Some commissioners spoke in favor of screening and tagging books with LGBTQ and coming-of-age related themes as proposed.

"They're targeting children in the way that they write the books and in the way they do the illustrations on purpose, to get them past what an average parent would think or see when they look at that book. That's strange that people are doing that and I don't understand it, " James Satcher, Manatee County commissioner for District 1, said.

Those against the move said they were concerned that censorship was at stake.

"To find a way of expanding government with additional advisory boards, to more tell me what to do with my life, seems to be counterintuitive to everything I campaigned on everything I do up here on this board and I'd like to be able to read what I want to read," George Kruse, Manatee County commissioner for District 7, said.

The Citizens Library Advisory Board recommends library policy to the Board of County Commissioners. While the commissioners voted to expand the advisory board first, it is unclear if members could remove books or prevent them from entering the library's system.

That's why some residents who were at the meeting said they need clarity on what exactly would be the advisory board's additional job description and who would make up the board.

"There really wasn't a lot of criteria laid out as to how they will go about choosing the people that will be on the advisory board," Shannon Keever, a mother and community organizer, said.

Keever said that just as with school district libraries, there already is a process in place for parents to prevent their children from checking out certain books at the public library.

Now with a larger board, she wants non-partisan community contribution as to who gets tapped for a seat at the table.

"When it's just them appointing people, I want to know who they're going to be putting in, by what criteria are they going to make this decision. I just don't want to see anybody's first amendment rights being trampled on," Keever said.

Commissioners asked the county's legal team to look into what the expanded board can and cannot do once convened. That proposal will also be discussed at a later public meeting.

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