In my last post, I wrote about assholes and Carnegie libraries. I didn’t expect this to be a theme. But this is the United States in 2022, and Comrade Trump has turned the Republican Party into a smug nationwide collective of aggressively stupid, hate-fueled, authoritarian bullies.
So, there’s a Carnegie library in the small Iowa town of Vinton, population of about 5000. Dedicated in 1908, it’s one of the smallest Carnegie libraries in the US. It operated to the benefit of the community for over a century.
That pretty much ended last week, when the library was closed. Why?
Because of assholes.
It began in May of 2020 when, Virginia Holsten, the Director of the Vinton Public Library for 35 years, resigned. She was replaced by Janette McMahon, who’d been a librarian in both Iowa and Wyoming.
You may remember that 2020 was an election year. Some library patrons complained about books written by Kamala Harris (who, by the way, had visited the Vinton Library and read from her children’s book) and Dr. Jill Biden being on display. They also complained that there weren’t enough books about Comrade Donald Trump. McMahon explained the rigorous process by which books are selected for the library. She said, “I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole. We don’t just say what looks good on Amazon.”
Library patrons who objected to the Biden and Harris books began checking them out, then refusing to return them. In effect, they stole the books.
Eventually the attacks against the library became personal attacks against McMahon. She resigned.
In November 2021, Renee Greenlee was hired as Director. She had a long, respected career as a librarian in Iowa. She was one of the librarians given the 2022 I Love My Librarian award, which is bestowed by the American Library Association. Only ten librarians in the country win the award each year.
Vinton library patrons objected to the fact that she hired some LGBTQ staff and that there were book dealing with LGBTQ topics on display in the library. At a library board meeting, one of the patrons read a statement, saying:
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. 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.
We would like to see more balance in the offerings of books for children. For each book promoting the LGBTQ lifestyle, there should be a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.
Greenlee reported that of the 5,779 children’s materials the library holds, only three books had a subject heading of ‘LGBT’, only two books had a heading of ‘Gay’ and only two books referenced ‘transgender’ issues. In addition, there were 173 books in the library collection that were based on Christian life.
Following the next library board meeting, which was apparently a repetition of the previous one, Greenlee resigned. The interim Director, a gay man, resigned shortly afterward, leaving the Vinton Public Library without any full-time staff.
This is NOT to say that Vinton, Iowa is a town full of assholes. It’s to say that the people of Vinton allowed their local assholes to disrupt a public service that’s been supporting their community for over a century. They’ve turned a lovely gift–a Carnegie library–into an open, festering wound of resentment and hate.
This is happening all over the United States. It happens because the assholes show up while decent people stay home and watch television. In small towns throughout the nation, a minority of bitter, ignorant, self-righteous religious bigots terrified of imaginary enemies have begun to impose their mean-spirited agenda on the rest of us.
And we’ve let them do it. We can’t expect them to be better. We have to DO better ourselves.