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Okanagan library board won’t intervene in Kelowna’s Drag Queen Story Time

Click to play video 'Library board allowing Kelowna library to continue  with Drag Queen Story Time' Library board allowing Kelowna library to continue with Drag Queen Story Time
Drag Queen Story Time events at the Kelowna library have sparked a controversy that’s pitted the Okanagan library’s CEO against some of his own staff. Wednesday the library board elected to go against the CEO’s recommendation and not intervene in story time. – Nov 20, 2019

At its Wednesday board meeting, the Okanagan Regional Library Board decided not to intervene in local libraries’ programming decisions, continuing to allow local libraries to make their own decision about what events to put on — including Drag Queen Story Time.

Hosted by the Kelowna branch, Drag Queen Story Time has proven highly controversial.

The library board reported receiving approximately 350 pieces of correspondence, both for and against the event.

READ MORE: ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ debate in Kelowna

The library advertises Drag Queen Story Time as a “fun program that celebrates diversity and freedom of expression.”

However, the controversy prompted the library’s CEO to step in and urge the board to provide direction to local libraries on children’s programming

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CEO Don Nettleton suggested the board adopt a policy that children’s programming “choices should be made on the basis of being suitable and safe for the age of children attending” and avoid “controversial and/or potentially divisive community issues as these may detract from our main focus and restrict our audience and community support.”

Click to play video '‘Drag Queen Story Time’ debate in Kelowna' ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ debate in Kelowna
‘Drag Queen Story Time’ debate in Kelowna – Nov 15, 2019

However, the board’s policy committee disagreed that library’s senior leadership needed to step in and recommended no change in policy around children’s programming.

“Essentially, it comes down to professional autonomy. We believe that librarians in communities throughout the region know their communities best to choose the programming that is appropriate for their communities,” said Loyal Wooldridge, a trustee on the Okanagan Regional Library Board and a Kelowna city councillor.

“It is really up to parents and guardians to decide what programming they would like to bring their children to. It’s not up to the board to decide that.”

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Retired librarian Barbara Jo May was happy to see the board not intervene.

“Libraries … don’t act in the place of a parent,” May said. “It’s a really firm principle in public libraries.

“Parents are responsible for what their children borrow, what they look on the internet, what programs they go to. These programs were advertised that the story time was going to be done by a drag queen and families decided to come.

“From all reports, they had a fabulous time.”

READ MORE: Despite controversy, Kelowna library’s Drag Queen Story Time grows in popularity

However, the board’s decision not to intervene in Drag Queen Story Time will likely not go over well with everyone.

Along with many letters in support of the event, the library received a lot of correspondence from those against it.

“I believe storytelling at the public library should not be about promoting adult agendas and ideologies, no matter how in vogue they may be,” wrote one complainant in an email a library staff member.

“Children could become confused by such behavior (sic) and it is very unacceptable to have men dressing up in flamboyant female outfits leading story time at the local library to young children,” wrote another person opposed to the events.

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Wooldridge, who said members of his family were among those who wrote in opposing Drag Queen Story Time, defended the board’s decision not to intervene.

“Information is available on both sides,” Woolridge said.

“Whether you are wanting to learn about sexual orientation or religion, a library is a place of discovery and any personal discussions outside of that should really be left up to families and guardians of children.”

The B.C. Library Association also weighed in on the debate, writing that there is evidence “discussions about gender identities are beneficial for children’s health development.”

It will now be up to the Kelowna library branch to determine if it wishes to schedule further Drag Queen Story Time events.