LINCOLN — A legislative proposal that would shift more authority of the library from the library board to the city would be good for taxpayers, a representative for Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said Monday.

Legislative Bill 969 would require all Nebraska’s cities and villages, regardless of size, to control their libraries.

In turn, the library board would advise on selecting content and programming, while the city would set the budget and hire the library director.

But two Omaha City Councilmen, and several library supporters, raised concerns that the bill could cause politics to trickle into bookshelves.

The Omaha Library Board, for all practical purposes, already functions as a city department, Marty Bilek, Stothert’s chief of staff, told the Nebraska Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.

Dual oversight by the Library Board and city creates “an unnecessary controversy when the library director becomes torn between two entities that both have authority over library operations,” he said.

“For the sake of consistency and accountability to the taxpayers,” he said, “the Library Board should instead assume an adviser role similar to the many other city boards.”

The bill, sponsored by O’Neill State Sen. Tyson Larson, was introduced amid friction among elected officials and library officials in the state’s largest and smallest cities.

Current state law says that those libraries in larger and smaller cities are to be run by independent boards. State law gives the option to just first-class cities, such as Papillion and La Vista, to take control of library operations.

In a letter to the legislative committee, Omaha Council President Ben Gray and Councilman Chris Jerram said LB 969 could “open the door to excessive political influence” over library materials and programming.

“We believe the Library Board has for many years provided effective oversight and governance of the library while maintaining a necessary separation between politics and intellectual freedom,” they wrote.

Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, said conflicts between library boards and cities are rare, and urged lawmakers not to legislate over few situations.

A possible amendment to LB 969 would give all cities the option to have an advisory library board, such as the case with first-class cities, instead of requiring all cities to have one.

The committee took no action on the measure.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, emily.nohr@owh.com

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