Support of reading legislation comes at a cost in Carroll County. Commissioners plan to withhold some additional funding to the Carroll County Public Library because staff supported Maryland’s Freedom to Read Act, they said in budget work sessions this month.

The recently passed state bill sets standards for public and school libraries that books cannot be removed because of an author’s background. It also protects library workers from discipline if they’re following the new standards.

The legislation was a response to attempted book bans in schools, including in Carroll County. The local Moms for Liberty chapter, a conservative parent rights group, challenged over 50 school library books they deemed inappropriate for kids, which prompted the superintendent to remove all of those books until they could be reviewed by a committee. The campaign also led the school board to tighten its policy so that no textbooks or library books deemed sexually explicit could be in schools. Parents and educators who opposed those moves argued that decisions on books should be left to the professionals — librarians.

Carroll’s all-Republican state delegation took issue with the legislation: “It is evident that this bill was designed to target Carroll County’s Board of Education and take away local control,” said a letter signed by State Sen. Justin Ready, Del. April Rose and Del. Chris Tomlinson.

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Meanwhile, the Carroll commissioners had to figure out how to balance the county budget as they face a deficit over $12 million. During an April 2 budget work session, Kenneth Kiler, president of the Board of Carroll County Commissioners, had an idea.

“This will be ugly for some,” Kiler said. “If you want to get some operating money out of the budget to help with this, I would make a motion that Carroll County Public Library get the money they had last year. No increase for this year.”

For fiscal year 2025, the public library system requested $11.6 million. It’s 3% — or over $300,000 — more than what they were given for the current budget year. It would pay for increases in operational costs due to inflation as well as a cost of living adjustment for staff, a library spokesperson said.

Kiler said in the commission’s budget work sessions that he thought the request should be denied because library staff advocated for the Freedom to Read Act in Annapolis. He called the bill anti-Carroll County.

“They’re directing a fight at us and Carroll County Public Schools because they hate Moms for Liberty,” Kiler said of library staff in the April 2 meeting. “They can go fight Moms for Liberty in the Westminster library if they want. I don’t care. But they don’t have the guts to do that so they try to do something in Annapolis that hurts Carroll County.”

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Carroll County Public Library officials declined to comment.

Andrea Berstler, the library’s executive director, had pledged last fall to keep the challenged titles in circulation.

“Carroll County Public Library staunchly supports the tireless efforts of library staff to ensure access to information free from the specter of retribution,” Berstler wrote in an open letter. “We endorse the belief that parents should choose what is suitable for their own child to read and that librarians are uniquely qualified to curate collections that reflect diversity and inclusivity designed to meet the needs of all members of our community.”

In a 3-2 vote on April 2, Carroll commissioners initially decided not to increase the library’s funding. Less than a week and a half later, though, they changed their minds.

On April 11, the commissioners decided to pay for half of the increase while the library will be responsible for funding the other half with its surplus funds, which total $1.2 million.

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In an email to The Banner last week, Kiler stressed that the budget isn’t final. Commissioners concluded what was supposed to be their last budget meeting on Thursday without discussing library funding again. They decided to meet a final time on Friday to complete their proposal, to be released Tuesday. There’s also a public hearing on the budget set for May 6.

The budget gets a final vote May 21.

Until then, Westminster resident Neal Goldberg is pushing back. The public school parent has been a vocal opponent of book removals and supported the Freedom to Read Act. After hearing Kiler’s comments, he helped start a petition to fully fund the library, which has gathered more than 800 signatures.

Some commissioners have also pushed back.

Commissioner Tom Gordon III said at the April 2 meeting that he sees where Kiler is coming from but is concerned about the repercussions for not funding the increase. The library gives access to computers, digital books and a place to cool off when it’s hot outside, he noted.

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“The people that are going to get harmed the most are going to be some of those users,” Gordon said.

Fellow commissioner Ed Rothstein, said he fears it is “putting consequences” on the people who go to the library. But he agrees that conversations with library leadership need improvement and said later the library staff is “making this easy for us” when it comes to deciding where to make cuts.

Commissioners noted in their April 11 meeting that the library’s relationship with the board would need to improve if they wanted to see funding increase in the future.

“I believe the library has to make the appropriate adjustments to understanding this personality of this board of county commissioners,” Rothstein said.

Kiler remains unmoved by the pushback.

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He said the library no longer collecting fees for late books is a sign it doesn’t need the funding. The system became a “fine-free library” in 2020 and allows customers to keep borrowing books even if they have overdue fees, according to its website.

At the April 9 budget work session, Kiler doubled down on his stance.

“If next year they’re going to take people down to Annapolis and preach against Carroll County, no, I don’t want to see them get a penny,” he said.

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