Public Library of Enid and Garfield County

Public Library of Enid and Garfield County.

ENID, Okla. — The local library board’s decision to temporarily suspend some of the library’s social media use and recommendation of an investigation were spurred by allegations made during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.

The Board of Directors of Public Library of Enid and Garfield County, during the regular meeting, voted to temporarily pause the library’s social media pages and sites except Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which are listed on the library’s official website.

Some public commenters, including people reading letters on behalf of other individuals and families not named and/or present at the meeting, alleged “inappropriate use of social media” by Library Director Theri Ray, who recently was named to the position after serving as interim for a year.

The meeting was live-streamed and can be viewed on the library’s Facebook page.

Ray, who began working at the library as the teen librarian on Aug. 3, 2020, said during the COVID-19 pandemic, platforms like Twitch and Discord were created and used as a way for library-goers to participate in events and communicate with each other virtually for groups and classes like book clubs. Google Classroom also had been used prior to her employment.

Those social media sites, Ray said during the meeting, were moderated by staff members of the library, but aren’t very active anymore.

On Thursday, Ray said the Discord server was created as the library and had different text channels within it related to different library programs.

One public commenter, Kayla Nichols, read a statement written by an “anonymous minor child” who claimed to attend programs in 2019 offered by the library that met remotely on Google Classroom and Zoom.

During the meeting, Nichols said the family of the minor wished to remain anonymous in a public meeting but agreed to contact their city commissioner and the library board chair directly if the statement’s authenticity was questioned.

The News & Eagle contacted Nichols on Thursday and asked if the family would reach out to a reporter to verify the statement’s authenticity, but the News & Eagle did not hear from the family.

The statement said the clubs and other classes the teenager attended were led by Ray and alleges that Ray announced and commented via Zoom and Google Classroom to let them know that she was considering offering LGBTQ+ classrooms “for closeted teens and those questioning their sexuality.”

Ray later posted that she “created a Discord server for these types of teens,” according to the statement, and the teenagers “were encouraged to get on Discord anytime they had questions about their sexuality.” The statement also alleges when Ray was explaining about the Discord, she said, “I am not sure how your parents will react, so you probably shouldn’t tell them.”

The teenager later joined the Discord, and according to the statement, members talked about genders, pronouns and sexualities and stated Ray had explained each letter of LGBTQ+ and pronouns.

According to the statement, the teenager joined another library club that met in-person and was led by Ray, and was encouraged in this club to attend Comic Con as a male character the teenager had created.

In August 2020, the teenager’s parents asked her about the character, and she, according to the statement, “told them about everything that had been happening at the library since the Discord group began,” saying that after a big talk with her parents, “I realized I had been sexually groomed by Theri and the library classes.”

Board members questioned why the social media sites were created and for what purposes, and Ray said the Discord server was “like a virtual library space.”

Ray said one teenager had asked to start a group “where people felt safe to be themselves,” and, on Thursday, she said the group also wanted a virtual space in the Discord server, as well.

Ruth Ann Miles, a board member, said during the meeting she felt the creation of the Discord server under Ray’s account, though on behalf of the library, was a conflict, as well as the Discord server being “secret, hidden and by invitation-only.”

Ray said the Discord server acted as a “virtual library space” and that parents can see if their child has a Discord account, and board members expressed concerns that the Discord server wasn’t publicly advertised as a social media platform used by the library on the library’s website.

Board member Christina Hopper said she knows her children have Discord, but that she would like to know if they’re on a public entity’s Discord server and get parental consent.

“Was that done? Was there parental consent, or a place on Facebook or on the library’s page that said, ‘We have this chat room. If your kids want to participate in this, they need to fill out this form,’” Hopper said.

Ray said that was not done.

“Very similarly in our mind, just like if a child comes to a program at the library, I assume that either they drove themselves here … or their parents brought them here,” Ray said. “So this social media had that same concept. I have no problems with, parents should know. I would absolutely encourage kids to talk to their parents. I encourage parents to talk to their children.”

After further discussion among themselves and with Ray, City Manager Jerald Gilbert and City Attorney Carol Lahman, Miles motioned to temporarily suspend all in-person activities for school-age children, as well as all social media sites of the library’s except for those advertised on its website, which include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Lahman said the suspension of in-person activities would violate the Open Meeting Act, but that the agenda item was broad enough for board members to vote to temporarily shut down the library’s social media sites. That motion carried.

After being in executive session for about an hour and a half, board members reconvened, and Joseph Fletcher read a statement that said the board, based on the allegations, recommended an immediate investigation.

Fletcher stated the library board isn’t an active, investigating participant but is closely monitoring the actions of the city manager, city attorney and police department.

Gilbert on Thursday said, “We’re doing our very best to fulfill what the library board’s asked about on the action they took on social media.”

He also said Ray has implemented the temporary suspension of all social media platforms other than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, throughout the investigation.

“The police department has been notified by multiple people, multiple times, and I know they’re working through their processes to take a look,” Gilbert said.

Other agenda items

Gilbert, who makes hiring decisions for most city of Enid job positions, recently officially chose Ray to be the official library director after working with her directly for several months.

Ray had interviewed for the position earlier this year, but Gilbert left the post open after the library board recommended re-advertising it at its April meeting.

Some public commenters, including library staff, said Ray is the right person for the position of library director and that under her direction, the library “will be the library Enid needs and deserves to be a more viable community.”

Other public commenters — some who read a letter or email on behalf of another individual — expressed that Ray should not be leading the library and that her “values do not align with the majority of the citizens of Enid.”

One agenda item — the notice of an appeal is for reconsideration of a materials decision by Ray — was tabled due to time constraints.

Susie Hinkle, who is a board member, requested the book “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver to be removed from the library, saying certain scenes in the book are obscene and unnecessary, and is appealing Ray’s decision for reconsideration.

Catina Sundvall and Stephanie Ezzell publicly commented on the book’s overall concept, disagreeing with the reconsideration for removal and that completely removing it is “dangerous territory.”

Ray also talked about the library’s long-term strategic plan process. A goal of one of those priorities in the process is to provide access for Garfield County adults to earn a high school diploma.

Ray said she will apply for a grant through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to provide scholarships for the program and access to devices to enable adults to complete the program at home.

Two exhibit requests were also approved by the board of directors. One will run from Dec. 1, 2022, through Jan. 15, 2023, and will feature fourth- graders’ drawings of The One Enid’s Christmas tree. The other one will run from Feb. 1-28, 2023, and will display a child’s AmTryke with additional information on who to contact and how the AmTryke will help the individual using it.

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McKendrick is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. 
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