Sanibel Voters Send Clear Message In Library Board Election

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Sanibel residents made time to vote in Tuesday’s election while still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Three seats on the Sanibel Public Library Board of Commissioners were on the ballot and island voters sent a clear message by reelecting the three incumbents in a historical race.

It was the first time this many library board seats were contested. The central issue was the library’s policy on placement of books dealing with sensitive topics, such as gender identity, in the youth section.

“The contested library board seats gave the community a chance to take a fresh look at library policies,” said Susan Holly, who was reelected with nearly 77 percent of the votes. “I think the election outcome reaffirms the overwhelming support for the library continuing on its current path.”

In June, a book display recognizing LBGTQ Pride Month caused concern for a group of island parents. Books about gender identity written for children were featured as a collection in the youth section and shelved at a child’s height.

A display in the youth section of the Sanibel Public Library earlier this year sparked a debate over the library’s policies on placement of books dealing with sensitive or complex topics. SC file photo

The concerned parents asked for books on sensitive or complex topics to be relocated from the youth section to the adult section under a parenting genre with a content disclaimer. The move, they said, would allow parents the right to choose when and how they discuss these topics with their children.

“On the key issue of the placement of specific controversial titles, the vote indicates the community wants its library to offer unfettered access to all types of information,” said Holly, who was opposed by Chelsea Sweiss, one of the concerned parents.

Jude Sincoske was also among the group of concerned parents who threw her hat in the ring against incumbent Barbara Ruben. Sincoske said she was “disappointed” in the outcome of the election.

“But after a hurricane, lies from other groups on the island and almost no campaigning, outside of social media, I’m in awe of the support I received,” said Sincoske. “Thank you to everyone who voted for me and I am looking forward to seeing what lies ahead.”

Sincoske received 29 percent of the votes while her opponent Ruben received 71 percent. Ruben said she does not look at it as a win for her but a “gigantic win for the library” and thinks the message from voters was clear.

“Books are to stay on the shelves and a variety of literature should be available,” said Ruben. “One may not agree with the content of the book or the person who wrote it, but, as a library card holder, each person has the right to decide for themselves and their children what is appropriate.”

The library will “continue to make all different types of literature available to educate and enlighten ourselves,” Ruben continued. “The board, director and incredible staff are there to steady and secure the future for this priceless treasure on Sanibel.”

The Sanibel Public Library has been recognized as one of the best libraries in the country. It ranks near the top for service and use across Florida Public Libraries. It’s home to more than 60,000 titles accessible through the local catalog and internet.

Incumbent Roy Gibson, who earned 68 percent of the votes for a win over his opponent Richard Dylan Murphy, said the library is “one of the best of its kind anywhere.”

“I am honored that I won my bid to continue serving as a commissioner for the Sanibel Public Library District,” said Gibson. He was thrilled his two incumbent colleagues won, too.

“I believe our resounding and collective win was also a clear message of support for the library’s current book collection policy – to maintain free access to all books, a Constitutional First Amendment value that allows access to information on a diversity of topics representing diverse points of view – all without censorship,” said Gibson.

The physical library remains closed after being severely damaged by storm surge. But the library’s collection and archives are safe and secure. Books, music, movies, magazines and more can be accessed online until the library reopens its doors. No date has been set.

Gibson had encouraging words for the community, as everyone works towards mending the island after the powerful Hurricane Ian left extensive destruction in September.

“Our recovery continues to be an extensive, expensive and exhaustive process that will take a lot more time, effort, assistance and patience to complete,” he said. “Thankfully, we are making progress everyday.”

“And if we continue to work together, then I know our island’s sanctuary qualities, our small town characteristics and our many unique island assets, including a fully programmed and operational Sanibel Public Library, will be back soon, just as they prescribed in the Sanibel Plan and Vision Statement,” said Gibson.

He is certain of that and added he is “confident in the resiliency of all Sanibelians.”

Sanibel Public Library Board of Commissioners Election Results

Seat 2Total VotesPercentage
Susan Holly, incubment1,98276.76%
Chelsea Sweiss60023.24%
Seat 5
Barbara Ruben, incumbent1,78670.76%
Jude Sincoskie73829.24%
Seat 7
Roy Gibson, incumbent1,78368%
Richard Dylan Murphy83932%

Comments (3)

  1. And so it should be! Congratulations to everyone.

  2. Thomas Cunnigham

    The library staff was accused of “indoctrination” by making freely available what a small minority considered “offensive” or “inappropriate”. That minority sought to segregate that content, making it less available, contrary to the ideals of freedom of speech. Actual indoctrination requires the restriction of information, so that only one voice is heard. Free access to information and free speech is anathema to that point of view. Freedom prevailed! Congratulations to the incumbent members of our Library Board who stood strong in the face of massive political pressure. Freedom actual won the day. Huzzah!

  3. Bravo and congrats to the board members.

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