Perry Stokes has had people lose books and other library items, and damage them and, of course, forget to return them on time.
But he hadn’t ever run across a patron who hid materials inside the library so other customers couldn’t find them.
When Stokes, who has been Baker County’s library director for a decade, confirmed that the man had done just that — indeed, admitted doing so — he took immediate action, under the library district’s code of conduct, by banning the man from the library in Baker City for six months.
“This is something we take extremely seriously in the library world,” Stokes said. “People’s right to choose and think for themselves must not be abridged. Adults must not make that decision for other adults.”
It is a First Amendment issue, Stokes said, because the library is a government institution, and it can’t allow patrons’ access to materials to be restricted.
The items in this case weren’t books, but six movies and one TV miniseries, all on DVD.
All have characters who are gay or lesbian or deal with gay and lesbian issues. This genre accounts for less than 1 percent of the library’s video collection, Stokes said.
Stokes said he confronted the man, whom he did not name but said is of retirement age, in March of this year.
“He wasn’t apologetic, and he felt like gay and lesbian culture was being shoved down his throat just by having these materials on the shelf,” Stokes said. “He felt like he had the right to curate our collection.”
He said the man vowed not to hide movies again.
Stokes said on Tuesday that although the six-month ban has ended, so far as he and his staff can tell, the man hasn’t returned to the library.
Stokes said the man, not long after their meeting in March, mailed his library card to the library, something Stokes said he did not request.
Gary Dielman, president of the Baker County Library Board, said he agreed with Stokes’ decision to ban the man.
“It seemed to me that he handled it very well,” Dielman said.
The situation actually started about six months earlier, in October 2016, when library employees noticed that some DVDs with gay or lesbian themes had been hidden behind the rows of movies.
Stokes and his staff investigated further and found that several items with similar themes were missing altogether but had not been checked out.
The library bought replacements for some of the items.
Later, employees discovered the DVDs hidden behind books in the reference section, Stokes said.
Stokes said that when he theorized about who might have hidden the movies he remembered an incident about a year earlier when a man had complained about some other movies — not ones with gay or lesbian themes.
Stokes said he told the man that the library, by stocking movies, wasn’t endorsing their content but only making them available to the public, which is the library’s core mission.
Later, Stokes confirmed that the same man had checked out several movies and returned them with what seemed to be intentional damage that made the DVDs unplayable.
Stokes said the man paid to replace the damaged items.
After suspecting that the man had also hidden the other DVDs, Stokes said he and other library staff monitored the man during library visits and confirmed that he had been in the library at about the same time that DVDs had been hidden.
See more in the Oct. 4, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.