Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Library temporarily closes after resignations over LGBTQ+ book challenges

The Vinton Public Library in Iowa closed for more than a week after its director, the library’s only full-time employee, resigned.
Photo of books on a table in a library

Story at a glance

  • A public library in Iowa closed its doors this month after the resignation of its director — the library’s third in two years.

  • All three former library directors have cited book challenges from community members as a primary reason for their departure. In March, one Vinton resident accused the library of pushing a “liberal agenda” for including titles that reference LGBTQ+ issues and identities.

  • The library re-opened on Monday. A new director has not yet been appointed.

An Iowa public library temporarily closed its doors this month after a series of departures over LGBTQ+ book bans left it short-staffed.

The Vinton Public Library, serving a community of fewer than 5,000 people, announced in a Facebook post on July 8 that the library would be closed “until further notice.” The move came just after the library’s director — and its only full-time employee — resigned. It’s the third time in just two years the position has been left vacant.

On July 14, the library in an updated post said its board had met to discuss plans for reopening and announced reduced hours of operations.

The library re-opened on Monday with limited hours while the town searches for a new director.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

Similar to other libraries across the nation, the Vinton Public Library has recently faced an onslaught of complaints from community members over its inclusion of materials referencing LGBTQ+ issues and identities and decisions to hire more LGBTQ+ staff members.

“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,” Vinton resident Brooke Kruckenberg said during a March library board meeting, the Vinton Eagle reported.

Kruckenberg at the time said she disagreed with the library’s decision to hire a majority of staff who are openly LGBTQ+, which she said reflects poorly on the town. Her mother, Deb Hassan, at the same meeting said that for each book “promoting the LGBTQ lifestyle,” there should be another title addressing a Christian belief that God created people “as either male or female from birth, for life.”

The library’s former director, Renee Greenlee, at the March meeting called the women’s comments “discriminatory” and said she had informed her staff to alert her if they feel they are being harassed or threatened by a library patron. She said an audit of the library’s children’s collection had revealed that, of nearly 6,000 titles, three had a subject heading of “LGBT,” two had a heading of “Gay” and two had a heading of “transgender.”

Another 173 children’s books were based on Christian life, she said, the Eagle reported.

Greenlee, who earlier this year received the American Library Association’s (ALA) I Love My Librarian award — given to just 10 librarians in the U.S. each year — resigned as director of the Vinton Public Library in May, citing book challenges and harassment from community members.

“A big part of this ‘controversy’ WAS because of personnel, people who are important to me who were discriminated against because they are LGBTQIA+,” Greenlee wrote in a Facebook post. “It’s not just about the books.”

Janette McMahon, who served as the library’s director prior to Greenlee, told The Cedar Rapids Gazette this week that some library board members were at times challenging to work with during her tenure. McMahon took the director position in May 2020, resigning just over a year later, according to her LinkedIn page.

“Not everyone was as supportive as others when the library needed to stand up for inclusion and diversity in its materials,” she told The Gazette. 

In addition to complaints about LGBTQ+ materials, McMahon said she heard grievances from community members about other children’s books, including “Joey,” written by first lady Jill Biden, and “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Vice President Harris.

She said some residents had questioned why more books about former President Trump were not available and accused the library of pushing a liberal agenda. In response, McMahon said there simply were not “quality books” about the former president, adding that the process by which the library chooses its materials is lengthy and thorough.

“We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole,” she told The Gazette. “We don’t just say ‘what looks good on Amazon.’”

McMahon said she quickly became unhappy with her job and that the library was no longer able to “function correctly” under her leadership.

“I decided to find a community that better fit me as a librarian and my standards for library ethics,” she told The Gazette.

McMahon now serves as director of the DeWitt Community Library about two hours away from Vinton.