Anchorage Public Library (APL) employees say their work climate is becoming increasingly toxic — a direct result of Deputy Director of Library Services Judy Eledge’s efforts to inject her own political and personal viewpoints and those of the Bronson Administration into a public system designed to be immune of bias or improper influence.

APL employees, concerned Eledge might retaliate against them, wished only to speak on the condition of anonymity, at least for now.

One library employee described the current climate this way: “We are tired of being bullied by unqualified, unknowledgeable people who only believe that their viewpoint is valid.” Another said the atmosphere at the library is “extremely tense. Everyone is constantly walking on eggshells or waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

Employees of the APL, which is still without a director, say Collection Management Services Coordinator Laura Baldwin had what they described as a “horrible one-on-one meeting” on January 14 with Eledge, a one-time Bronson pick for library director who was pulled from consideration to avoid Assembly confirmation and instead installed in the unconfirmed role of deputy director. The employees said Baldwin was expecting to discuss vendors and the library’s weeding process with Eledge and went to the meeting prepared to discuss those two issues.

(Weeding is the process of evaluating individual library materials based on established weeding criteria, deciding whether to retain or discard each item, and implementing that decision.)

Instead, employees say Baldwin found herself faced with an irate Eledge, who whipped out copies of The Atlantic and The Economist magazines that Eledge says identified “biased content.”

At the meeting, Eledge claimed that the magazines she riddled with Post-it notes were biased, and that because publishers were biased, the library’s collection was now “unbalanced” in all areas. Eledge opined that because of this, fixing the problem would be hard.

But employees of the APL say that Eledge’s assertions are nonsense and insist that the majority of items in the library’s collection already represent a white, Christian, heterosexual view and that public libraries should represent the entire community, not just one group of people’s opinions or perspectives. In addition, conservative counter magazines are readily available at APL.

APL staff say they are concerned Eledge might move to restrict future library collection orders to reflect the perspective of the Bronson Administration and far-right groups such as Save Anchorage and Alaska Parents’ Rights in Education (APRE).

Eledge is a former member of Save Anchorage who left the group and temporarily deactivated her Facebook account after screenshots of inflammatory posts and comments made by her circulated on social media during her failed run for the Anchorage School Board last year.

She is a current member of the APRE Facebook group. APRE’s parent organization claims anti-racism curriculum is racist and must not be taught in schools and opposes the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum, which the group says is “designed to challenge or change traditional sexual and gender norms of society.” The group believes that LGBTQ+ advocates “groom preschool children at libraries” and that LGBT militant activism is fostered in both public schools and libraries.

Eledge has an established and troubling history of publishing social media posts that linked gay and transgender individuals to pedophilia and criticized Muslims, Alaska Natives, and people of color.

Library employees say Eledge has quietly removed gender inclusive books from library shelves without checking them out on her library card for her own “personal review.” Employees say this has resulted in reading material being taken out of circulation — sitting in her library office, sometimes “for weeks.”

One such item is the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age adult fiction novel Lawn Boy (2009), which tells the story of Mike Muñoz, a young adult Mexican American who has faced hardship ever since his childhood and is now going through a phase of self-discovery. The book became a focal point of sex-obsessed right-wing parents in Texas and Virginia last year when three individuals challenged the book in those states, alleging it was full of obscenity and sexual content. In all three instances, the book was returned to library shelves.

Employees at the library say that Eledge removed a copy of the children’s book Jack (Not Jackie) (2018) from the library shelves without checking the book out on her library card. The book, published in partnership with GLAAD to accelerate LGBT inclusivity and acceptance, addresses the topics of gender identity and gender expression and encourages children to wholeheartedly accept people for who they are.

The book’s disappearance became noticeable because it and two other books, Sex is a Funny Word (2015) and Jacob’s New Dress (2014) had been challenged by a Chugiak cardholder and employees needed to locate the book.

As it turns out, Eledge had removed Jack (Not Jackie) because she needed a copy for a Library Advisory Board (LAB) meeting. The LAB acts as the planning body for library activities and special projects and makes recommendations to the administration and assembly. Notably, Mayor Bronson’s wife, Debra, and others aligned with the Bronson Administration, including the daughter of Bronson’s Chief Human Resource Officer Niki Tshibaka and far-right U.S. Senate Candidate Kelly Tshibaka, have been seated on the advisory board.

Tshibaka serves on the board as a Student Advisor.

Nobody at the library knows for certain why gender inclusive books that have been on library shelves for years have suddenly been challenged by “concerned parents,” but there’s speculation it may have everything to do with the far-right’s nationwide assault on LGBT-themed books and employees say they believe this is just the beginning of a new coordinated attack on the Anchorage Public Library.

On January 3, Alaska GOP propagandist, Must Read Alaska, published photographs of Jack (Not Jackie) on display at the Loussac Library in a blog post titled “Gender confusion literature: Read-aloud book at Anchorage library tells kids how girls can be boys.”

Also on January 3, transphobic Eagle River Assembly member Jamie Allard shared photographs of (Jack Not Jackie) with the far-right, pro-Bronson Save Anchorage Facebook group, whose members have hurled transphobic and homophobic slurs at sitting Anchorage Assembly members and former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. Allard was attempting to generate outrage over the book on display at the library and asked her fellow group members to email their thoughts to Mayor Bronson and Eledge.

Two days later, on January 5, the far-right, Mat-Su-based Alaska Watchman, a regular purveyor of misinformation, published a blog post titled “Ridding Anchorage Library of Transgender Child Propaganda Takes a Joint Effort,” which tells the sad tale of a heterosexual mother offended that the book was displayed at the library. 

Much like the allegations Eledge faced during her school board run when her disturbing social media posts became a focal point of former Alaska News Source investigative reporter Daniella Rivera, one employee says they’ve heard Eledge make disturbing characterizations about certain types of individuals.

The employee claims that Eledge asserted that there are only two genders, and that the brains of men and women are built differently, and nobody can change that. The same employee said that Eledge has made statements that portray a false stereotype of Alaska Native families and once recounted the time she has spent in rural Alaska and suggested that no amount of state funding could pull up individual reading scores “because their families don’t care.”

Library employees say they are fed up with Eledge’s repeated attempts to inject her political and personal viewpoints and those of the Bronson Administration into the library and that if the current atmosphere at the library doesn’t change, some may find it necessary to go public and begin speaking up.

“For now,” one employee told me, “I’m still hoping for change from within, or to at least outlast what’s going on here.”

It’s not clear if Eledge will be moved by the concerns of APL employees. According to one employee, Eledge has been heard bragging that she can stay in her position for as long as she wants.

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