The Kansas City Public Library, which has protested the arrests earlier this year of a librarian and a patron during a public event, gained a show of support this week from the country’s largest library association.
The American Library Association issued a statement praising the Kansas City library for supporting free speech and promising help as the library opposes the prosecution of its director of public programming, Steven Woolfolk, and library patron Jeremy Rothe-Kushel of Lawrence.
The arrests of both men by Kansas City police on May 9 during the question-and-answer period of a talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross at the Plaza library did not gain public notice until last week. On Friday, R. Crosby Kemper III, the executive director of the city’s library system, said the arrests and charges violated the First Amendment.
Police have stood by the arrests, saying Rothe-Kushel was disrupting the event and Woolfolk physically interfered with officers removing Rothe-Kushel. City prosecutors have declined to comment on the case, which is set for a hearing Nov. 16.
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On Monday, American Library Association President Julie Todaro issued a statement of support for the Kansas City library.
“The ALA commends Steve Woolfolk for defending a patron’s right to question and debate matters of public concern,” Todaro wrote. “The association will continue to extend resources to library staff as the Kansas City Public Library moves forward with its legal efforts,”
Rothe-Kushel was arrested by off-duty police working with private security as he stood at a microphone asking a follow-up question of Ross, who appeared ready to move on to another audience member. Rothe-Kushel is charged in city court with trespassing and resisting arrest. Woolfolk is charged with interfering with Rothe-Kushel’s arrest.
The off-duty police were employed by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Truman Library Institute, which were co-sponsors of the event. Library officials said that staff turned off Rothe-Kushel’s microphone but that police and security were not acting on behalf of the library in removing anyone.
The American Library Association represents about 57,000 librarians and related professionals, frequently offering expertise and resources to local libraries facing challenges. Todaro said she could not recall an occurrence similar to what has been reported in Kansas City.
“Frankly, it’s an unusual situation,” Todaro said. “In my opinion, this does not happen often, and I’m thankful for that.”