Iowa library temporarily closes after full-time staff leaves following complaints about ‘liberal agenda’ in book selection

The controversy started over complaints about books on display for children with information on the LGBTQ community, according to Jimmy Kelly, board chair of the Vinton Public Library.

“They would like to balance that for every book that talks about LGBTQ issues, that there also be a book describing traditional gender expression,” Kelly told CNN Thursday.

However, former library director Janette McMahon defended the decision to display the books in her library collection in an interview with CNN, saying she never had an “agenda.”

“I don’t have an agenda when I purchase a collection. That is not my job. I know what my job is, and we have guidelines that we follow to do that. So, politics does not play a role in how I choose my collections,” McMahon said.

While Kelly says there were “a lot of people who spoke up in defense of people in the LGBT community” at later meetings, the complaints still took a toll on staff, including former library director Renee Greenlee who left in May and her interim replacement who left last friday.

“We made a determination that without any full-time staff, we would need to close,” Kelly said.

Greenlee told CNN she is glad the story is receiving attention, but she declined to speak further about her own experience, citing a need to move on.

The library has a complaint policy

McMahon said the library had a policy to allow residents to complain about any books in an effort to have the library remove them. She says no formal objections were ever made. Instead, she says customers checked out five children’s books, including “Joey: The Story of Joe Biden,” and did not return them.

"The people basically accused the library of having a liberal agenda,"  Vinton Public Library Board Chair Jimmy Kelly told CNN Thursday.

“A reconsideration policy allows you to object to materials or programming in which the library is joined. Libraries have this, it’s very common,” she added. “It protects the library staff, it protects the library board as well as the person who is making the complaint. It is a wonderful process.”

The content complaints followed complaints last year the library had a children’s book about Vice President Kamala Harris and one written by first lady Jill Biden, but no children’s books about former President Donald Trump, according to Kelly. It resulted in McMahon’s resignation, he said.

Since resigning last year, McMahon took a job as the library director in DeWitt, about 90 miles away. She says the controversy leading to her decision to leave the Vinton community was unfortunate.

“It was very sad. I really liked working with the city department heads I worked with,” she said. “I had a great staff and there were a few people on the library board who I thought were fantastic, but it was just the atmosphere, and we all will choose a location of where we live or where we work by what matches our personalities and I just didn’t feel that I needed that extra stress in my life.”

McMahon said she also heard complaints that there were no books about former President Donald Trump in the display.

“These were children’s books, these were picture books, and I did my due diligence. Did I miss someone? Did someone write a nice book about the former president? The answer at that point was no. I don’t know if there’s something Now, I don’t know,” McMahon told CNN.

Kelly said he and the eight other members have agreed to volunteer their time at the library so it can reopen next week with a limited schedule and offerings. Library officials are in the process of interviewing a new director, said Kelly, who hopes the open discussions they have had in public meetings will lead to more understanding, but he acknowledged the future may still be difficult.

“It’s not a resolved issue,” Kelly said. “It very much feels like it’s still there on the surface.”

Mark Stringer, executive director of Iowa’s American Civil Liberties Union, said in a written statement on Tuesday, “Government institutions, like public schools and public community libraries, have a legal obligation under the First Amendment to not censor materials simply because some community members don “I don’t agree with the viewpoints in those materials. Free societies read freely.”

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