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Hamilton County library director will step down following tumultuous year

By Lee Gaines, IPB News | Published on in Community, Local News, Politics
Edra Waterman, director and chief executive officer of the Hamilton East Public Library, listens to public comment during a library board meeting Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (Aric Hartvig / WFYI)

The director and chief executive officer of the Hamilton East Public Library, Edra Waterman, is stepping down from her role. The announcement comes after a tumultuous year for the suburban library system, which was thrust into the ongoing national debate over children’s access to books.

Waterman, who has served in her position for 12 years, was charged with implementing a controversial policy that bars materials that contain depictions of sex, violence and repeated profanity from the library’s teen zone. The policy was championed and approved by conservative members of the HEPL library board who gained dominance in 2022.

Library staff began a retroactive review earlier this year of its teen collection to identify any material that is not in compliance with the new policy. As of mid August, nearly 2,000 titles had been relocated to the library’s general collection, including Hoosier author John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska,” along with other award-winning YA novels, like “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

The HEPL board, which oversees libraries in Noblesville and Fishers, drew national scrutiny and condemnation after Green publicly criticized the policy.

Following Green’s comments, the board opted in August to pause the policy.

During the months that the policy was in effect, Waterman and conservative members of the board engaged in tense back and forth conversations during public meetings.

Board members also blamed library staff for relocating Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” to the adult section — stating that it was done in error. The book contains a sex scene. And both Green and Waterman said that the relocation was the result of the policy — not a failure to implement it.

Last month, a board member who championed the policy resigned after the state’s public access counselor wrote in an advisory opinion that he violated the state Open Door Law.

In a statement, HEPL board president Tiffanie Ditlevson wrote that the board will begin the search process for a new chief executive officer immediately.

Under Waterman’s leadership, “HEPL has been recognized as a leader in innovation among public libraries regionally,” Ditlevson wrote. She added that they do not anticipate any disruptions or changes to service as a result of Waterman’s departure.

The statement did not include any information about Waterman’s plans for after she leaves the position. Her last day is Dec. 22.

Contact WFYI education reporter Lee V. Gaines at lgaines@wfyi.org.