Iowa library embroiled in banned books debate temporarily closes
A library in a small town in Iowa taken in a national debate on LGBTQ-themed books is again without a manager and will operate under limited hours after a brief closure.
Vinton Public Library closed earlier this month following the resignation of interim library director Colton Neely, but is scheduled to reopen on Monday. The library board decided to work with part-time staff members to reopen the library for four hours a day Monday through Friday at its meeting on Wednesday.
Neely took the job in June following the resignation of former manager Renee Greenlee. Greenlee left after just six months on the job. She has been criticized for hiring LGBTQ employees and some library books. Critics have also accused her and other library officials of promoting a partisan agenda.
The circumstances surrounding Greenlee and Neely’s resignation have placed Vinton – a rural town of 5,000 about 112 miles northeast of Des Moines – in the middle of a national debate over which books children should have access to in public schools and libraries.
Despite the ongoing dispute, the library and its board continued to enjoy public support from residents and organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
“Public libraries were founded on the principle of making ideas and information accessible to everyone, regardless of income or geography. Libraries like Vinton’s have an important role in the community,” said Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, in a statement Wednesday.
At this time, the council is focused on reopening the library.
“It’s never a good circumstance to close a library and what people consider to be an essential community resource,” said Jimmy Kelly, chairman of the library’s board of trustees.
Neely – who left to take up a position at a museum – decided to leave because he and his partner were feeling the strain of what was happening at the library and the ongoing controversy over books and staff.
He considered applying for the manager’s job, but was told he didn’t have enough experience. Neely served twice as acting director.
“I felt like no one was really giving me that support,” Neely said in an interview with the Des Moines Register.
Neely, an openly gay man, recalled there was a setback when he was hired about two years ago as a children’s librarian. Over the years, vitriol has worn him down.
Kelly admitted that the discrimination and harassment that employees have regularly faced in recent years has been lost in the discussion of the management of the Vinton library.
The council has tried to educate residents about how the library is required to follow the Equal Opportunity Act when it comes to hiring people, he said. It will continue to move forward.
With Neely gone, the council is focused on reopening at 9 a.m. Monday and interviewing three candidate library directors this month.
Kelly declined to say how many applications the board had received for the position.
“We really hope we can find someone in our search for a director to meet the needs of the library and the community,” Kelly said.
Samantha Hernandez is in charge of education for the Registry. Contact her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter.