Former Sterling library director claims board fired her to censor decisions on books, displays

Sterling's library director and her assistant were fired Wednesday night, July 5.
Published: Jul. 7, 2023 at 12:17 AM CDT
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STERLING, Kan. (KWCH) - The central Kansas town of Sterling is without a library director after the woman who served that role said she was fired because the library board is trying to censor her decisions on what books are displayed and allowed.

Wednesday night, Sterling’s Carnegie Library Director Kari Wheeler was fired, as was her assistant, Brandy Lancaster. The reason the board gave is that the group lost confidence in Wheeler and Lancaster’s ability to do their jobs. But the recently-fired director and assistant believe there’s more to the board’s decision to take such swift action.

Wheeler said a front display case at the library addressed diversity, featuring people from different backgrounds and skin colors. The display also included recognition for Autism Cares, she explained.

“But I was told to take it down because it has a rainbow infinity flag,” Wheeler said. “June is National Gay Pride Month and I was told that this was not appropriate t post. “And I said, ‘it’s not about any of that.’ I said, ‘it’s about autism,’ and so I didn’t see the problem with posting it.”

Wheeler and Lancaster expressed frustration.

“The small amount of people that would be against us posting that, luckily it is smaller. And honestly, it makes them sound just as dumb as they did back when the 50s were around and segregation was a big deal,” Lancaster said.

Rice County Democrats Chair Katelyn Mattson addressed the issue saying, “It’s incredibly alarming that we have an appointed board, a group of people in power, who are censoring books is essentially what’s happening here, banning literature, books that don’t necessarily align with their own personal belief system.”

12 News reached out to three library board members. The board president, Jeremy Stenmeitz didn’t discuss the matter involving personnel and didn’t comment on the display featuring the rainbow infinity flag.

Vice President Michelle Miller also didn’t offer an explanation for the firings but did explain her reasoning for not wanting the display in the library.

“Well, being that it was June, I believe the focus was to promote an LGTBQ agenda,” she said.

When questioned about her objection, even if the display did include LGTBQ, Miller said “It seems to be a divisive thing for communities.”

“And we as a library board didn’t want to partake in such a divisive thing,” she said.

Members of Sterling’s library board are appointed by city commissioners and are not elected to their seats.