Conservative residents of a small Iowa town criticized the local public library's LGBTQ+ staff and displays of LGBTQ-related books to the point that most employees left. As a result, the library is now closed for the foreseeable future.
At first, controversy erupted over the Vinton Public Library's display of books about prominent Democrats and then over its display of LGBTQ+ books and staff members who identify as LGBTQ+.
Taking the Vinton job in May 2020, Janette McMahon, who has been library director since 1995, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that some patrons complained informally about the library's display of books written by First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and not enough books on former President Donald Trump.
"I can't buy what doesn't exist, and there weren't quality books about Trump," she told the Gazette. "It's a long process to choose materials typically. We pay attention to reviews and publishers, and our collection needs as a whole. We don't just say what looks good on Amazon."
Some people would check out books they believed were problematic instead of filing a formal complaint, McMahon said. In the wake of several months of complaints that turned personal, she resigned.
Following McMahon's resignation, Vinton Children's Librarian Colton Neely served as acting director during the interim period. Renee Greenlee, formerly with Marion Public Library, was hired as the new Vinton Public Library director in November 2021, the paper writes.
When Greenlee came to Vinton, she was highly regarded because of her involvement with Marion's community.
During her tenure at the Marion Public Library, Greenlee organized Marion's first Pride festival, which included drag queen storytelling, a panel discussion, and a parade. Earlier this year, Greenlee received an I Love My Librarian Award from the American Library Association for her work with the LGTBQ+ community.
She and her staff became public targets a few months into Greenlee's tenure.
In a prepared statement read by rural Vinton resident Brooke Kruckernberg at the Vinton Library Board meeting on March 9, she accused the library of having a "liberal agenda" because of the library's book choice and the hiring of Greenlee and her LGBTQ+ staff, the Vinton Eagle reports.
"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."
The Vinton Public Library had employed Neely, who is openly gay, since January 2021, months before Greenlee began working there, Iowa Starting Line reports.
A total of 5,800 books were available in the children's section of the Vinton Public Library, Greenlee told Vinton Today. There were 173 books with Christian themes, but three were titled "LGBT," two were labeled "gay," two were labeled "transgender," and none were labeled "binary," "lesbian," or "bisexual."
Greenlee defended her staff members during the April meeting and reiterated that the library serves all patrons. She also explained why a tit-for-tat display of Christian and LGBTQ books would create other inequalities.
"If the library were to do as Ms. Kruckenberg asked regarding the 1:1 display of books about transgender people to God-approved cisgender people, this would result in biased displays," Greenlee said. "To be equitable, we would also need to display books with multiple religious and non-religious views of gender, including Christian denominations and other religions that are inclusive of transgender people."
Neely was appointed interim director for a second time after Greenlee resigned, but he left last week to take a job in another city, forcing the library to close indefinitely.
Located 40 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, the Vinton Public Library has been open to the public since 1904.