Town library forced to close after staff walk out over anti-LGBTQ+ book ban

Library in a further education college

Almost all staff members of an Iowa town library have walked out over a series of complaints about LGBTQ+ books and workers.

The Vinton Public Library saw a mass staff walkout and eventually closed on 8 July after losing two directors in the span of two years due to city residents complaining about the library’s display of LGBTQ+ books, as well as books about democratic leaders Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The Vinton Library Board eventually reopened the doors of the public library on Monday (18 July) with limited opening hours and volunteers filling in for staff members.

Director Janette McMahon resigned in July last year after starting in May 2020, replacing the previous director who had worked there for over 32 years. She told The Cedar Rapids Gazette that residents would avoid using the official review process in order to have the books removed, or would check them out and never return them.

There were also a number of informal complaints about there not being enough books about former president Donald Trump on display. However, McMahon claims that “there weren’t quality books about Trump,” saying: “It’s a long process to choose materials typically. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole.”

Several books written by first lady Jill Biden and vice president Kamala Harris were complained about, as well as several LGBTQ+ books.

“The Kamala Harris book was donated to the library when she spoke here,” McMahon told The Gazette. “Joey by Jill Biden was a patron request, and we displayed all our new books,” she explained to NPR. “Like in a lot of small towns, gossip and conjecture and the side conversations just kind of take over. And at that point, you become unable to really do your job well.”

The backlash eventually grew to personal attacks against McMahon, who said the library “couldn’t function correctly” amid the town’s negative reaction. She told The Gazette: “I decided to find a community that better fit me as a librarian and my standards for library ethics.”

After her departure, children’s librarian Colton Neely, who is openly gay, took over as interim director until November 2021, when Renee Greenlee was appointed. Greenlee has won awards for her library work on several occasions, including work that supports LGBTQ+ communities.

She said that Iowa’s Vinton Public Library had almost 5,800 items in the children’s section, with just three being labelled as LGBTQ+ and two with “gay” in the heading. Comparatively, there were 173 items with Christian themes.

“A big part of this ‘controversy’ WAS because of personnel, people who are important to me who were discriminated against because they are LGBTQIA+. It’s not just about the books,” Greenlee said in a Facebook post. “Yes, the books are EXTREMELY important. EVERYONE should be able to choose for themselves what they read and see themselves reflected in books.”