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Following the first five games of the season, Thunder Basin senior quarterback Ryan Baker is leading Class 4A in passing yards per game, total passing yards and touchdowns.

Library responds to numerous book challenges during Banned Book Week
Controversy over books at the library continues during week calling attention to banned books

During a week design to focus on books being challenged for being inappropriate, the staff at the Campbell County Public Library were spending some of their time responding to more than a dozen forms challenging books in the library’s collection.

Saturday is the final day of Banned Book Week, a national event that takes place each year in the last week of September and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.

It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

Library director Terri Lesley said the library has celebrated Banned Book Week for at least as long as Lesley has worked there, and she can’t remember one time in the last 25 years that someone had an issue about it. And before this summer, very few books were challenged.

For three months, the Campbell County Public Library has received criticism for its inclusion and promotion of LGBTQ materials to children and teens. Library staff are now working through the dozens of challenges that have been submitted.

Lesley said that since Aug. 9, 18 unique titles have been formally challenged. There have been 35 requests for reconsideration submitted, Lesley said. Sixteen letters have been sent out to the people who filled out the forms, and more will be sent next week.

Some of the challenges don’t ask that the books be removed, but that they be moved to a different section of the library.

All 16 of those letters said the books will remain in the library in their respective areas.

“We feel like the items are correctly placed in the collection,” Lesley said. “But we still have a ways to go.”

The situation is not unique to Campbell County. There are libraries in other communities around the country that are facing similar issues this year, including in Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Missouri.

“I think this is bigger than our library,” Lesley said. “This is a political movement, and we just happen to be caught in it here.”

Lesley said that between letters, emails and phone calls, she hears from at least half a dozen people a day who are standing up for the library.

“I feel pretty good that we have a lot of support out there,” she said.

Kevin Bennett said the fact that the library was promoting Banned Book Week in its teen section flies right in the face of the people who asked that books be moved.

“You’re flouting the community who is bringing these things to your attention, it’s downright insidious,” he told the library board Monday.

Cutting library funding

On Monday, during a meeting between the library board and commissioners, Commissioner Del Shelstad suggested cutting the library’s funding.

He said the library shouldn’t come asking the county for more money because in his opinion, “we shouldn’t fund you at all.”

Commissioner D.G. Reardon, who had called into the meeting, asked if he’d heard Shelstad correctly, and if Shelstad meant he wanted to close down the library.

Shelstad said he wanted to cut funding to the library, and ”if that means closing it, then we close it.”

Thursday, he clarified what he meant.

“I didn’t mean 100% of their funding,” he said. “I said cut their funding. That comes in a lot of shapes and sizes.”

As a county department, the library receives county funding through a number of different channels for a lot of different things. How big of a reduction in funding the library could see remains to be seen, Shelstad said.

“I never said one time I wanted to close the library,” he said.

Public comment

More than a dozen people spoke at a library board meeting Monday evening, which took place after the meeting with commissioners.

Susan Bennett said the library is in danger of losing its relationship with the Campbell County School District.

“We’re going to make sure that there’s no more field trips to the library, your summer reading program, it’s going to be jeopardized, and so is everything else you do with children,” she told the library board.

She and her husband Hugh Bennett filed a report with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, accusing the library of disseminating obscene material. A report was forwarded to the county attorney’s office.

She said the public trusts the library to make the children’s section a safe place to be, and that the library has betrayed that trust.

“They trust you as elected boards, administrators, with our taxpayer dollars that we work hard for ... to be responsible,” she said.

Local pastor Ed Sisti said “it’s books in the library that divide us.”

Intellectual freedom is just another word for socialism, he said, while sex education is sexual indoctrination.

“There’s no freedom at the library for parents that want to protect their children,” he said. “You should be listening to us, we pay for this library. That’s why the funding could be cut.”

Matt Heath, a father of two boys, spoke in support of the library, calling the people on the other side of the issue bullies. He said they’ve called him a number of things, from liberal to bad parent to child molester.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of shock politics,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see any intentional evil or indoctrination going on.

“The community divide is not the library, and it’s not the books,” he said. “The community divide is coming from a dozen people that decided they wanted to divide the community. I don’t know why.”

Jane Gebhart asked the board to not go with “what the angry crowd” is saying, and said the commissioners need to tour the library to see how books are classified and why.

Vicki Swenson said although some of the books that are being challenged are “very questionable,” she does not believe the library is intentionally harming children.

She added that while values and opinions are important, they should not be the main thing driving the library.

“I think the political agenda is on that side, it’s really hard to watch,” Heath said, adding that he’s speaking up because “hypocrites and bullies need to be stood up against.”

The library is supposed to serve the community, Shelstad said, and by not listening to “a portion of their community,” it is failing in providing that service. He said if a nonprofit organization or another county department were doing the same thing, he’d propose cutting their funding as well.

There are some people who want the books to be removed, and there are some who want them to remain, Shelstad said. The simple fix would be to “just move those books. That fits everybody’s needs.”

He said he’d like to see this come to an end soon, and he sees one of two ways where that happens.

“No. 1, the library board decides to help us fix this issue,” he said. “(No. 2), the commissioners will take action to resolve the situation, whatever that looks like.”

Recycling programs turn five
Recycling programs that started in 2016 are thriving

It was a cold and slightly windy Thursday as June Edwards pulled into the Campbell County CARE Center in an SUV.

She parked, opened her trunk and pulled out a bin stuffed with brown plastic bags from Smith’s. Each bag contained a different recyclable material.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Gary Jones sorts through recyclables at the CARE Center Tuesday afternoon. Both city and county recycling programs are doing well five years after their start.

Edwards, who goes to the recycling center at least twice a month, said Thursday’s trip was “a pretty good batch” for her.

She was sad when the old recycling program ended five years ago, but said she understood why it had to end.

“I can see why it was so darn expensive, there’s so much stuff. What do you do with it?” she asked.

She recycles because, “I don’t believe in the throwaway stuff, I’m really sick of our throwaway society,” and is grateful for the leeway that recycling technicians Gary Jones and Paul Candelaria give her.

“I am kind of sloppy about it, but they don’t say too much,” Edwards said.

70 recyclers a day

It’s been five years since Campbell County and the city of Gillette launched their own recycling programs, and both continue to see quite a bit of use from the community.

Jones said the CARE Center averages 70 people a day, and 350 people a month. That is up from 2019, when the daily average was 60 people. And when the program first started, it averaged between 20 and 30 people daily.

Both Jones and Candelaria remarked at the increase of moving boxes that they’ve seen recently. The boxes have been unfolded and are stacked neatly against a wall, separate from the rest of the cardboard.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Norm Curtis unloads boxes at the CARE Center Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve got a lot of folks moving into town,” Jones said.

July and August were the busiest months of the year for the recycling center.

“We’ve had quite a few days over a hundred,” Jones added.

When the program started five years ago, the county’s biggest concern was educating the public on what they could recycle. Since then, people have gotten pretty good at separating their materials.

“They’re doing good, we’re not getting so much trash, it seems,” Jones said.

Five years ago, the curbside blue bag program was draining money from the city of Gillette and Campbell County, costing them $130,000 and $342,000, respectively, in 2015. And the county was paying more than $450,000 a year to take the materials away, and a lot of it wasn’t even recyclable.

“We were baling what we considered recyclables, that’s what we were collecting,” said Public Works Director Matt Olsen. “But it was just garbage, it was so polluted with things that shouldn’t be put in recycling, and we were paying to get rid of them.”

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Aluminum cans are compressed into blocks at Gillette’s CARE Center Tuesday for recycling.

The city and county spent the spring and summer of 2016 trying to figure out a solution. They ended up deciding to start their own separate programs. The county went with a source-separated operation at the old landfill facility on Westover Road and the city contracted with Western Waste Solutions to pick up blue bags of commingled recyclables.

Commissioner D.G. Reardon remembers sitting in on some of those meetings in 2016, before he was on the board.

“When they implemented the new program, it was probably the best thing at the time,” he said.

Reardon said it’s good that residents have the option to recycle should they choose to do so, but noted that it is a service that the city and county are willing to provide at a cost to their bottom lines.

“I don’t think either one of them pays for themselves, and we’re also limited on what we can recycle,” he said.

City recycling customers pay $6 a month to participate in the blue bag program. Dave Naughton, owner of Western Waste Solutions, said there are about 760 people in the program right now. His haulers pick up about 5.6 tons of blue bags per month, and 7 tons of cardboard per week.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

CARE Center recycling tech Gary Jones grabs a bag full of recycled materials to sort through on Tuesday.

Olsen said the CARE facility has been staffed by the same three people for the last five years.

“Paul and Gary are still holding down the fort, doing a phenomenal job, and Julie (Ruff) handles all the operations,” he said.

The program has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars each year when compared to the old program.

“It still doesn’t pay for itself, but to go from where we were spending maybe $300,000 a year to now, we maybe make $60,000 a year,” Olsen said. “That’s a $360,000 turnaround. That’s significant.”

Ahead of some trends

In 2019, China started implementing its National Sword policy, which included very strict regulations on what recyclable materials it would accept. It stopped taking commingled recyclables from the U.S. This flooded the domestic recycling market with material, driving down prices.

Olsen doesn’t see China going back on its policy any time soon. It has a large enough population that it can rely on its own materials without having to import recyclables from America.

But by switching to a source-separated operation, Campbell County was able to avoid the troubles that plagued other communities that stuck with commingled recycling.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Paul Candelaria takes a cart across the CARE Center to load up more paper to sort through on his shift Tuesday afternoon.

“We were ahead of some trends. There’s still a lot of big companies that do commingled, and they’re the ones that got clobbered the most with the China issues,” Olsen said.

In the last five years, there’s one material that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s cardboard. There’s a demand for it, and people have a lot of it.

Naughton estimated that since the pandemic, his company has seen an 80% increase in cardboard.

“It’s hellacious,” he said.

“Cardboard is still in huge demand, and even more so with the pandemic,” Olsen said.

Online shopping already had been increasing in popularity when the pandemic hit, but after everyone was stuck at home, it went up to another level.

“We’ve got people that will buy a couch, a chair, dining room equipment, and place (the cardboard) on the curb,” Naughton said.

“It’s a box within a box, sometimes within a box, there’s just so much cardboard,” Olsen said.

Candelaria estimated that the recycling center gets enough cardboard to make eight to 10 bales, which weighs 6 to 7.5 tons, a week.

They’re not complaining about the cardboard. In fact, they welcome it.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Recycling tech Paul Candelaria shakes shredded paper out of a bag while sorting at the CARE Center Tuesday afternoon in Gillette.

The paper products, including cardboard, newspaper, mixed paper and white paper, are “good movers,” Olsen said.

Other materials, such as plastic or aluminum, aren’t in high enough quantities for the county to ship quickly. For example, the value of a No. 2 natural plastic is good, Olsen said, but it might take several months before thy can get a load to ship.

He said the biggest struggle during the pandemic has not been the prices of the commodities, but the ability to ship those materials.

“We were really struggling to find trucks, and we did struggle for quite some time, trying to get shipments out, and our brokers couldn’t find us anything,” he said.

The cost to ship out a load as much as tripled, and cardboard was just piling up. But in July, the county was able to ship out 12 semi loads of cardboard. With 22 to 23 bales per load, and each bale weighing 1,500 pounds, that means 198 tons of cardboard was shipped out in that month alone.

“Right now we’re in good shape,” Jones said.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

One of two CARE Center resident cats, Oliver, looks for a comfortable place to lay down and relax in a large pile of loose paper Tuesday afternoon as employee Paul Candelaria looks on.

Saving a year at the landfill

While the recycling numbers are improving, it’s still minuscule compared to the amount of trash that’s dumped daily.

“We’re lucky if we get 2 or 3%” of waste diverted to recycling, Olsen said, but every little bit counts.

The county’s North Landfill is projected to last for 35 more years, he said. The recycling program diverts about 900 tons of material each year away from the landfill.

“Based on what we average a day, it’d probably shave a year or so off of the life of the landfill, at least,” Olsen said.

Naughton said he’s not sure what the next five years will hold for recycling in Campbell County. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the current presidential administration, especially regarding the future of fossil fuels.

Olsen said he thinks there will always be a big market for cardboard, but the plastics market will depend on oil prices.

While the next five years are unclear, the last five have showed that there are hundreds of households in Campbell County that are willing to take a little extra time to recycle.

“For the most part, people are just very friendly when they’re up there, and willing to do the right thing,” Olsen said.

Steve Schofield directs the marching band during practice on Sept. 27 at Thunder Basin High School.