Complaints and compliments

April 9, 2024 in

by Kate Lasky
Originally published in the Grants Pass Daily Courier | July 2023

Beyond fostering a love for reading and promoting knowledge, our local public library is a community connector, facilitating social interactions and civic engagement — sometimes in the most unlikely way.

This past month, Josephine Community Library received two significant complaints. One was a book challenge and the other was about the selection of new titles. Both complaints were delivered by concerned citizens who, through the process of public participation, wanted to make a change.

For the record, we also received several compliments, most of which were for the staff and volunteers who go above and beyond to help library patrons. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear “Thank you” and “I love our library” at all four library branches. Compliments are equally as important as complaints, but they are not nearly as interesting.

Complaints, when expressed constructively, play a vital role in community involvement. They highlight concerns, spark dialogue, and drive improvements in public services. Encouraging open channels for complaints fosters a healthier democracy and empowers citizens to shape their society positively.

Nobody likes to receive complaints, especially when we are working hard to do our best; but these awkward challenges in civil discourse are at the heart of our democratic ideal.

The truth is that we receive complaints and compliments every month at the library, every day in fact. From parking lots and service hours to technology and bathrooms, citizens share their concerns with us regularly and for more reasons than can be mentioned.

What is different about this past month is less about the details of the complaints and more about how they were delivered. In both cases, the concerned citizen approached the library with respect, consideration, and a genuine desire to learn how the library operates — and because of that, change happened.

Let me explain.

In the first case, Josephine County resident Morelle Lauber called her State Representative to discuss the public library in her community. Morelle was concerned about how books were being discarded and selected, and she wanted to have an influence on the selection of new titles. State Representative Lily Morgan shared Morelle’s concerns with me, the library director, and asked if I could speak with her. I made an appointment with Morelle and another staff member. Over the course of about an hour, we reviewed library policies, discussed how Morelle can use the Suggest a Purchase form, and learned how the system is unclear for patrons — how it lacked transparency.

Thanks to Morelle, beginning in July, we updated our procedure to include a follow-up email and explanation to the patron and we are staying in touch with Morelle to make sure our new system is working.

Throughout the entire exchange, Morelle remained open to learning about the library while sharing her genuine desire to access new materials for her family and friends. In turn, we listened and learned how the library can improve her service.

In the other case a grandfather, Dave Blalak, was upset about a book in the young adult collection. After visiting the board meeting and issuing his complaint during public comment, he attended a County Commissioner Weekly Business Session for the same purpose. I happened to be at the same meeting and asked him to visit me at the library. We discussed his concerns, library policy, and how to complete the Request for Reconsideration form. Withing a week, Dave submitted the form to ask that the library move the book from the young adult area to the adult collection. The staff and board reviewed the material, its awards and merits, and compared it to the Collection Development Policy. In the end, we agreed with Dave and moved the book.

While Dave was impassioned about his point of view, he was also able to express himself constructively, which helped shape the services at the library. Like Morelle, he was respectful and effective in his communication and community involvement.

People like Morelle and Dave are rare in today’s world, and I want to publicly thank them. As citizens, they both shared the responsibility of finding a solution with the library and were willing to compromise to shape public services positively. They weren’t seeking recognition or media attention — they are genuinely invested in their community.

Please know, I’m not inviting a deluge of complaints to the library — remember that most folks working at the libraries are volunteers giving freely of their time. But, I am encouraging readers to share their concerns in the same manner as Morelle and Dave, and help our library continue to be that community connector through positive social interaction.

More often than not, concerns go unsaid and unaddressed. If public libraries are truly cornerstones of thriving communities, then they are also the place where citizens find their voice and cultivate the fine art of civil dialogue to drive improvement in public services.

All of us at the library are keenly aware that we aren’t perfect. We depend on your input for the benefit of everyone — complaints and compliments alike.

Between the Pages is a monthly column written by Kate Lasky for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Ms. Lasky has worked with Josephine Community Library since 2009. She holds a master’s in education and is currently pursuing her master’s in library science. To send comments or questions, email