Gage Miskimen, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids
The Vinton Public Library has lost two directors in two years as city residents have complained about the library’s display of LGBTQ books and books about President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Most recently departing the library was Renee Greenlee, its director for six months. Her experience was as the children’s and family services library assistant at the Marion Public Library and she also had worked at the Hiawatha Public Library and the Kirkwood Community College library.
Greenlee, who left the Vinton post in May and started a new job at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, declined to comment about why she left the Vinton post.
The Vinton library’s board of trustees accepted Greenlee’s resignation earlier this month in front of 100 residents. During the meeting, around a dozen people spoke in support — and against — Greenlee.
Some residents have accused the library and its previous directors of having a “liberal agenda” due to its hiring of openly LGBTQ staff members and the display of books on LGBTQ topics. They argued books about religion should be displayed equally.
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In March, Brooke Kruckenberg of Vinton said the library had a “liberal agenda” based on book choices and the hiring of Greenlee and her staff, as reported by Vinton Newspapers. She and her mother, Deb Hesson, argued for more Christian content.
“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,” Kruckenberg said at the March meeting. “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.”
Greenlee at that meeting said of the almost 6,000 children’s materials in the library, seven included headings of LGBT, gay or transgender and 173 were based on Christian life.
While the library board members accepted Greenlee’s resignation, they also adopted an ethics statement and new rules for the board’s public comment period.
The ethics policy says, in part, that board members will respect colleagues’ opinions and will not be swayed by public pressure or fear of criticism, Jimmy Kelly, the library board’s chairman, told the Des Moines Register.
“The purpose is to assure our next director we are supportive of the tasks they need us to undertake,” Kelly said. “And that we understand our role as a board and take that seriously.”
Vinton, a town of around 5,000 and the county seat of Benton County, also saw another director, Janette McMahon, resign in July 2021. She now is director of the DeWitt Public Library in Clinton County.
McMahon told The Gazette last week she had a good library staff in Vinton, and some library board members who “were utterly fantastic” and others who “were a challenge.”
“Not everyone was as supportive as others when the library needed to stand up for inclusion and diversity in its materials,” she said.
McMahon said she also received complaints about children’s books on display, including “Joey,” written by First Lady Jill Biden, and “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Vice President Kamala Harris.
However, no formal complaint was made about those books.
“That puts library directors in an interesting position because if no one fills out a reconsideration form, there’s no way for a library to respond,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that everyone can have a right to their own opinion, but they don’t have a right to tell others what they can or cannot read.”
Instead of filing a formal complaint, some people would check out the books and not return them, McMahon said.
“Which is theft of materials,” McMahon said. “Then we had to go through a process to get them back. … We know the folks that had them out had been making complaints to other city officials and people around me without going through an actual process.”
Some residents also argued the library should have more books about former President Donald Trump on display, McMahon recalled.
“The Kamala (Harris) book was given to the library when she spoke there, and the ‘Joey’ book was a purchase request” from a library patron, McMahon said. “It was not deliberate.
“I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump. It’s a long process to typically choose materials. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole. just say what looks good on Amazon.”
McMahon said the way she was treated in Vinton quickly became more personal and uncomfortable, to the point she was no longer happy living in that community.
“When they refuse to make a formal complaint and don’t go through the process, it becomes a side conversations constantly, and you can’t even stand up for yourself because you don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “It’s personal, and it’s not even about the job and that’s not OK.
“When I had had enough, we couldn’t function correctly as a library, so I decided to find a community that better fit me as a librarian and my standards for library ethics.”
Vinton library board members did not respond by the weekend to a request for comment.