The “Read Woke” teen reading program was funded through a micro-grant from Beanstack Black Voices. File Image

SNOW HILL – Discussion of a library program and its possible link to a political movement dominated a meeting of Worcester County Commissioners this week.

Commissioners met with Worcester County Library Director Jennifer Ranck on Tuesday to discuss “Read Woke,” a teen reading program offered by the library. Despite concerns from some commissioners, Ranck said the program was unrelated to Black Lives Matter and was simply meant to promote diverse literature.

“The library is not a partisan organization,” Ranck said.

Ranck was invited to attend Tuesday’s meeting to talk about Read Woke after Commissioner Chip Bertino expressed concerns about the program last month. He said a voter brought the program to his attention after seeing it promoted at various branches. Bertino’s concern was that the program was funded by one of Beanstack’s Black Voices micro-grants, which the Beanstack website says are “in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

He asked Ranck how the library generally goes about applying for grants.

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“It’s kind of at my discretion,” Ranck said, adding that it was a $ 1,000 grant that the library was able to virtually apply for, which had been helpful during the pandemic. The grant allows the library to offer two prizes of $ 500 to teens who participate in the “Read Woke From Home” challenge. Ranck said there are currently between six and eight teenagers participating in the program.

When Bertino referred to Beanstack’s support for Black Lives Matter, Ranck said she contacted the company and was assured that she was not officially linked to any political movement.

“I have to take their word for it for this,” she said. She said the Worcester County Library was one of 39 libraries across the country to have received one of the grants.

Bertino said he believes there is too much subjectivity in the library’s grant application process.

“I don’t think politics should be part of everything our library does,” he said.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he was okay with this, but the library had done nothing wrong in the matter. He pointed out that the library served everyone and that it was bound to meet different opinions along the way.

“We all know that by sitting here you won’t be able to make everyone happy every time,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder asked about the list of books associated with the reading program. Ranck explained that there is a different theme each month, but all of the books are aimed at young adults and deal with social issues. The playlist categories include African American Voices, Asian American Voices, Diverse Ability, Immigration Voices, Hispanic American Voices, Female Voices, and LGBTQ + Voices, among others.

Elder, like Bertino, referred to the statement of support for Black Lives Matter on the Beanstack website.

“For me, it’s just a way of separating everyone into groups rather than individuality,” he said. “I firmly believe in individuality and the content of character. I don’t believe in it anymore. It seems that across the country we are separating more and more.

Ranck responded by recounting a TV interview she saw with Bryan Collier, an award-winning children’s book illustrator from Pocomoke City. He had said he hadn’t seen many books with colored children when he was little.

“That was the motivation for him to become a children’s illustrator …” said Ranck. “When you’re a librarian and you’re promoting reading, building a collection, planning community programs, you hang on to something like that. You remember it. You want your collection and programs to reflect diverse thinking and collection. It’s not meant to divide, it’s actually meant to be inclusive.

Commissioner Diana Purnell said she applauds Ranck and the program. She said the different voices the children encountered in the books would give them a better understanding of what people had experienced throughout the country’s history and that this was essential when they couldn’t find enough of the books. in schools.

“Superintendent Lou Taylor will tell you in front of God and everyone that we have the best schools,” she said. “But there are loopholes in there.”

Bertino said he supports the library’s efforts.

“The library has a responsibility to make sure these voices are available to be heard in our library and I think we are,” he said. “But I really have a hard time when the library pushes a political agenda forward. “

He brought up the Beanstack website and its statements in support of Black Lives Matter. He asked if the library would have applied for the grant if these statements were in favor of another organization, such as QAnon.

“Our goal for this grant was to highlight underserved voices,” said Ranck.

“But if the grant had been promoted or approved by another organization that you disagree with, or disagree with, would you have given them the same opportunity to provide a grant? Bertino replied.

Ranck said she had withdrawn her opinion from the library’s decisions.

“We would look at the subsidy in the same way that I believe,” she said.

Bertino said he still believed the library was pushing a political agenda forward.

“It’s a volunteer reading program,” Ranck said.

“Defended, advertised and promoted by our libraries,” replied Bertino.

Ranck said the library’s mission is to promote reading.

Nordstrom asked if an agenda is being pushed with the books included in this program.

“These books deal with social issues,” Ranck said. “When you read the description of the program, that’s what they’re trying to convey. This is not a science fiction book club. These are social issues.

Purnell again expressed his support for the program and for Ranck.

“I’m not happy to put you at the helm today on Black Lives Matter,” she said. “It’s not the case, I was not elected to come here and do this. That’s not what I’m here for. We have to keep Black Lives Matter out of the library, out of schools… ”

She said that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that the library provides access to those opinions.

“As a taxpayer, I have always supported the library,” she said. “When we get to the point where we have to come in and tell you what you can and can’t do, and you have to justify what you put in this library, then we have a problem in the county. Period.”

Bertino said he did not dispute the importance of the library or its ability to bring the community together. He fears that the library will become a political entity.

“I have a feeling that is the case in this particular case,” he said. “I think it’s wrong… This particular grant that defends a political agenda, I think it’s wrong. I think it would be wrong if it was a political organization that I agreed with. It has no place in our libraries.

Commissioner Jim Bunting praised Ranck but said he also disagreed with the grant.

“I think we made a mistake in accepting this grant,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic asked if the library board had approved the grant.

“I can’t state the minutes they approved this, but they gave me permission to apply for grants,” Ranck said.

Mitrecic stressed that there had been no community outcry related to the program.

“I think anything that gets our teens to read and sit at a table to chat about something and not play on their phones is a positive thing,” he said. “They don’t text each other, they actually have to be conversing. I think it’s more important than anything else on this table right now. While I certainly have my issues, I think it’s a good thing for the community.

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