Just the Facts

FRL addresses child safety

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Deena Bouknight

Children and their exposure to books with sexually explicit content, as well as other child-safety issues relating to the Macon County Library and the Fontana Regional Library (FRL) system, have been at the forefront of discussion topics in recent months.

MACON COUNTY Public Library’s children’s section.

Relating to an Oct. 3 Macon County Public Library Trustee meeting, where concerns were communicated regarding whether library employees and volunteers should undergo background checks, a poll was put forth in the Nov. 1 edition of The Franklin Press. The question asked was: “Should background checks be required for employees and volunteers at Macon County libraries?” The results of that poll were as follows: Yes: 88% (134 votes); No: 12% (18 votes).

“At the Oct. 3 meeting, board member Leah Gaston asked me if background checks were carried out on staff and volunteers,” explained FRL Regional Director Tracy Fitzmaurice. “I answered that … I would look into whether or not other libraries across North Carolina did so. I surveyed public library directors across N.C. and most … do carry out background checks. I checked with the other regional library system directors and got a similar response. After learning this and after discussions with Lynn Cody [FRL finance officer] I decided that we should go ahead with adding this step to FRL’s hiring process.”

At the Nov. 14 Fontana Regional Library Board of Trustees meeting held in Bryson City, Fitzmaurice announced that she and Cody had moved forward to implement background checks.

Fitzmaurice explained the process of settling on the background check service.

“Lynn [Cody] researched different alternatives and we settled on the same company, Safe-T-Works, that our three counties use for their county employees. All current employees have completed the necessary paperwork authorizing the check … and new hires will undergo the check before the hiring process is complete. The costs associated … will be paid by the individual libraries under the line item of contracted services.”

Noted Gaston, who attended the Nov. 14 meeting, “SAFE-T … is the same company that conducts background checks for Macon County government employees. The checks scan federal and local court cases in all 50 states. If there is a ‘hit,’ SAFE-T will contact the employee first to verify his/her identity. The next step would be for SAFE-T to contact FRL concerning the ‘hit.’”

“At this time, volunteers will be checked against the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Registry, which is administered by the Department of Justice,” added Fitzmaurice. “The website enables FRL to search the latest information on the identities and locations of registered sex offenders from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the principal U.S. territories.”

Additionally, the FRL Safe Child Policy was amended; it states how old a child can be left unattended at the library. 

“For reasons of safety, children under the age of 12 must be under supervision while in the library. If the child is 8 and under, they must be under direct supervision. Children between the ages of 9 and 11 may be in a different section of the library than their guardian, but the guardian must be present in the building. Children 12 years and older, may be left unattended at the library, with permission of a parent, legal guardian or caregiver, provided they abide by all aspects of Fontana Regional Library Code of Conduct Policy.”

THE CHILDREN’S section of the Macon County Library has books and access to computers.

Macon trustees updated

At the Tuesday, Dec. 5, 4 p.m. meeting of the trustees at the Macon County Library in Franklin, with a few representatives of FRL present, Macon County Librarian Abby Hardison went back over the details pertaining to background checks and shared, “I am happy to report that all employees have now undergone background checks.” She added that only traffic violations were revealed in the completed background checks.

In his report, trustee Wood Lovell shared, “Libraries have come under fire all over the United States, even here in our small community. It’s been very difficult to be a library anywhere, even in our area. But we feel that the 69 employees at [FRL] … we let them know that they have our support.”

Trustee Ed Trask followed with a comment that January’s meeting will be “interesting” because a discussion will take place regarding the American Library Association (ALA), most specifically its Code of Ethics. “I don’t support anything about the ALA,” he said. “The ALA does not align itself with some of the family values in our community and we are supporting our community,” said trustee Diann Catlin. “I think we can offer an opinion as an advisory board to consider people’s First Amendment rights before asking them to sign it [Code of Ethics].”

A motion by Trask and trustee Leah Gaston, as read by Hardison, was “to scrutinize and revise the [ALA] Code of Ethics document so First Amendment rights are not suppressed.” The motion passed.

Gaston proposed that the FRL board adopt a statement as part of its newly revised Collection Development Policy “to bring clarity and unity, since there has been misunderstanding,” she said.

Gaston’s motion was to adopt the following statement: “The library will neither promote nor censor any particular religious, moral, philosophical, political, or social conviction or opinion.” The motion passed.

The next FRL Board of Trustees meeting is Jan. 9 at the Jackson County Library in Sylva.