Iowa Town Gets Wish: No More LGBTQ Books, Because No More Library
The public library in Vinton, Iowa has been closed since July 8 following the resignations of most of its already small staff, largely in reaction to a sustained campaign by rightwing members of the community who didn't like the fact that the library had a display of LGBTQ books. Even more frightening, several LGBTQ human beings were on its staff, eek. After the library's most recent interim director took a job elsewhere, there weren't enough staff to keep the library open, so it shut its doors temporarily while the library board figured out what to do next.
Photo via Vinton Public Library
The lovely little library opened in 1903, one of Andrew Carnegie's 1,679 acts of bibliophilic penitence for being a ruthless steel and railroad robber baron in the Gilded Age. (He also paid for 7,000 church organs, making him America's first organ donor.) Starting Monday, July 18, the library will reopen with reduced hours, with library board members helping to run things until the board can interview and hire a new director — assuming candidates can be found who are willing to deal with the chaos, or at least unaware of what they're in for.
Do yourself a favor and go read the full story from Iowa Starting Line, which details the anti-LGBTQ crusade that led to the resignations and closure. It started last summer when angry citizens complained that the library displayed books by Kamala Harris and Jill Biden, and then grew into gripes that the library was entirely too gay because it has a handful of children's books on LGBTQ issues among its 5,800-book children's collection — which also includes "173 books with Christian themes."
\u201cKamala Harris is reading her kids\u2019 book, \u201cSuperheroes are Everywhere,\u201d at a library in Vinton, Iowa. There are a couple of HS & college kids here too\u201d— Alexandra Jaffe (@Alexandra Jaffe) 1571769053
The library had the Harris book because the future VP donated it when she visited in 2019 and read to kids, that monster. The Biden book had been purchased after a request from a patron. Some disgruntled community members told then-library director Janette McMahon the library needed more books about Donald Trump for balance, although McMahon told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that presented a bit of a challenge, since
I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump [...] It’s a long process to choose materials typically. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole.
OK, but did the library even have the excellent Ted Cruz Coloring book?
Still, at least members of the community took an active role in shaping the library's holdings:
Rather than go through the official procedure to have the books reviewed and possibly removed, McMahon said people would just check those books out and never return them, which is theft of materials and forced the library to go through a process to get them back.
Eventually, the criticism turned personal, even as people eschewed the formal book challenge process. McMahon became uncomfortable staying in the community, and in July of last year she left for another library director job elsewhere in the state.
Things got stupider. Children's Librarian Colton Neely filled in for a stint as interim library director, and then in November 2021 the board hired Renee Greenlee as director. Greenlee had previously been director of the Marion, Iowa, library. Yes, that's right: she was the Marion Librarian, and I'm sure no one in Iowa ever made that joke ever. There, she won a national award from the American Library Association for being awesome at community service.
Unfortunately for Greenlee 's tenure in Vinton, her record of service included outreach with the LGBTQ community and the library's first recognition of Pride month, which may have been OK with those big-city coastal elites in Marion (population 41,535), but left some upright citizens in Vinton aghast. In March of this year, rightwing jerks showed up at a library board meeting to play out the performative anti-LGBTQ grossness that's become so popular with Wingnut America.
According to the Vinton Eagle, rural Vinton resident Brooke Kruckernberg read a prepared statement during the March 9 Vinton Library Board meeting that accused the facility of having a “liberal agenda” because of book choices and due to the hiring of Greenlee and her staff, some of whom are LGBTQ.
“It appears that there is a slow, quiet agenda moving into our local library culture through the staff hiring decisions and the books that have crept in our children’s section of the library,” Kruckernberg’s statement read.
“I don’t believe the library is representing our town well with hiring a majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community.”
Kruckernberg also insisted that she was not at all suggesting anyone should lose their job, but that many people in the community agreed with her and were "distancing themselves from the liberal agenda that seems to be happening at the library." She was particularly unhappy about the
subtle, yet noticeable display of the LGBTQ agenda through the choices of books on display, the cross dressing of employees, Facebook posts and the question of non-gender bathrooms being considered on tonight's agenda.
She didn't specify what she considered "cross dressing," but she did offer a suggestion: how about a little balance in book displays, like for instance
For every book on display with a topic of becoming a transgender, I would ask that there is a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.
Yes, really, books on the topic of "becoming a transgender," which perhaps should be moved to the weekend projects section, too.
Greenlee noted in a statement that only two books in the children's collection are listed under the subject heading "transgender" anyway. It's not clear whether the children's section held any books that specifically tell children that CisHet God "designed people as either male or female from birth, for life," but we bet if you looked around the collection some, we bet you'd find at least two that depict straight cisgender people as the assumed norm. Possibly more!
Greenlee was for some reason unwilling to accept this perfectly sensible compromise, and after another tumultuous board meeting in May, resigned later that month. Neely stepped in as interim director again, but he too left for another job, leaving the library with zero full-time staff, so the place went dark.
Now, we do feel a little bad about our very misleading headline, because it doesn't appear that any LGBTQ books were actually banned, and none burned at all, shame on us.
Instead, the whole library was banned, at least temporarily. It should reopen with limited hours Monday, and we wish the library board success in finding a new director and staff. Maybe the community will show up and celebrate the library's reopening, and spontaneously burst into song about the wonders of reading, the love of learning, and the Americanness of diversity. That would make for a really upbeat closing scene.
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