Two Vinton residents stood in front of the Vinton Library board representing others from the town. Brooke Kruckenberg and Deb Hesson presented requests to the Vinton Public Library in both March and April, respectively. The two asked that the library consider the books that are made into displays and also requested publication of the upcoming books that would be used in the weekly Storytime.
The Library Board decided in May to reject both of the above requests.
The first request made to the library board was to consider adding books to the displays in the children’s section. Books have been arriving on the shelves concerning children’s sexuality, and the two women had requested that books encouraging a traditional heterosexual lifestyle also be included in these displays. Displays are the books shown on top of the bookshelves, on tables, or on Facebook posts. The request was made requesting a balance for traditional lifestyles that children could also consider. This request was rejected because the board deemed this request to be censorship.
The board then went into a discussion about the number of books on the shelves. Others did a search of the children’s section and said that there were seven books addressing children’s sexuality in the children’s section of the library at the time. A tally of how many books concerning Christian, Republican, Liberal, and other topics were available on the shelves was shared, with zero being reported for children that discuss the heterosexual lifestyle.
At May’s meeting, the board again circled back on the topic of books and doubled down. One member even suggested that especially on the topic of religious books aka Christian books (according to the count given) that perhaps the library should remove books and others added because the library is “heavily weighted” in some directions.
The requests made did not concern books on the shelves but rather the books being placed on display. There was little discussion on this topic.
The second request was made for the library to release the book titles that are intended to be used for storytime. Citizens that Hesson was representing wanted to have a sort of calendar of topics for upcoming storytimes. Citing an example of the library giving details of an upcoming storytime, she shared that from February until June that the Library website gives very general program details, unlike the April 12 program. This announcement stated “Special Storytime by Library for the Blind. Denise Bean, Youth services librarian from the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, will lead an interactive storytime for children of all abilities!” Hesson reiterated that the only thing being requested are book titles and the presenter.
A quick search shows that on the library website for a May Storytime, there will be one with the topic of bubbles that the Library is currently announcing.
One of the board members said, “The gist or the impression I was left with was that community members might want to know who the guest speakers are so that they can determine if that guest speaker or guest reader aligns with their values. How much research are they going to do on a potential guest speaker to decide if that person is in alignment with their personal values?”
The library board decided that storytime agendas will not be released to the public because there is fear again of “censoring” from the public. One member spoke out in favor of releasing the topics ahead of time as a way to publicize the events and a way of drawing more attendees to storytime.
Library Director Renee Greenlee stated that if you want to know the upcoming books that will be shared that you could contact her the Friday before and she would respond. If you would like to do so, the email address is: email@example.com
Greenlee was recently recognized with an “I love my Librarian” award by American Library Association. Nominated for her work as a children’s librarian at the Marion Public Library, she was recognized for “making a deep impact on the Marion area with her programming efforts including the city’s first Pride event.” In a press release about the nominations it reads, “With help from community partners, Renee also helped facilitate Marion’s first Pride event, which featured a Pride parade around the library, a drag queen story time, a panel with local LGBTQIA+ agencies and more…”
In Greenlee’s acceptance of the award, she said, “We don’t do what we do for the glory, or the money, Rather we just do what needs to be done. We recognize and seek out the inequalities, the needs and wants of the people in our communities and libraries. We figure out what needs to happen to meet those needs and reduce those inequities, and we just do it.”
Threat of Legal Action
In March the requests brought in the April meeting were met with a strong response from Greenlee, which included the threat of legal action saying that the previous presentation bordered on harassment. Because Kruckenberg brought the concerns to the board and said, “I’ve observed the direction of our public library heading over the past couple of years. I am not here to ask you to remove anyone from their staffing positions,” she said, “If a liberal agenda is not the intention of the library, I ask you to please consider that this is the impression that many families are viewing it as. There has been a subtle, yet noticeable display of the LGBTQ agenda through the choices of books on display, the cross-dressing of employees, (and) Facebook posts. I am not asking that any books be banned or even removed from the library.”
In response Greenlee said that voicing this perception of the behavior or sexuality of the employees by Krukenburg or any other patron of the library from now on would result in legal action as it would be considered “hate speech.” Greenlee cited the “Civil Rights Protections Against Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity as a basis for this.
Geenlee went on to say that when Kruckenberg said that she was not asking for anyone to be removed, it was instead a “veiled statement” that demonstrated otherwise. She continued, “I have instructed my staff to immediately let me know if they feel unsafe, threatened, harassed, or discriminated against by a library patron so I can handle the situation as effectively as possible.” She also said, “it is my job to make sure discriminatory comments, such as those in Ms. Kruckenberg’s statement, don’t happen again.”
The Board’s Role (According to their website)
Krukenberg had reminded the board of their obligations to all patrons by reading from the Vinton Public Library’s website. The board is tasked with “making sure the community’s needs and interests are paramount when making board decisions”, and should “determine whether the community is satisfied with the service received from the library”, and “regularly evaluates the director to make sure the library operates well and in the best interest of those the library serves.”
Board Considers adding “harassing or discriminating language” to By-Laws
A continuation of the discussion about amending the board’s by-laws went into the May meeting. The board addressed updating their by-laws for public comments by amending Section 3. H. to include the words, “harassing or discriminating language.” The new wording would say,
“3.H. All meetings are open to members of the public who wish to observe. Non-board members who wish to address the board should request a place on the agenda no later than 24 hours before the time established for the meeting. The request can be directed to the president, secretary or the director.
The public comment forum would be limited to 30 minutes total with a three minute time limit for each speaker. The board will listen to comments but will not respond to or discuss with the speaker afterward. If the comment necessitates a response, this will come at a later time after the board of directors has had an opportunity to discuss the issue in a subsequent board meeting.
Though public comments are welcome, at no time is it appropriate to use profane, obscene or slanderous language, nor any harassing or discriminating comments.”
There was a discussion that the (highlighted above) language would be subjective to interpretation. Citing free speech laws, members discussed whether residents have the right to express their thoughts to the board. Some members cited free speech and others said that you can’t say “just anything” in the context of public comments but you can do that on a street corner, but not in the library board meeting.
A member also stated that the terms “harassing or discriminating” left it open to interpretation unlike the use of the words, “profane, obscene or slanderous language” which are specific and used in the city bylaws. The member cited the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) stand which discourages this language as too restrictive to the first amendment. The board will consult the city attorney on the topic.
Greenlee said that the added language is needed to protect her staff from comments made about them. Other Board members believed that public employees have their own protection from harassment.
Another member questioned if the board to go into closed sessions to discuss topics like these, and the Iowa law which can be seen here was read.
All of the statements made to the board and from the board cited in the above story can be seen below.
Video of the April meeting can be seen here.
Kruckenberg, Hesson and Greenlee statements are below.
Kruckenberg’s March Statement to the Board:
“My name is Brooke Kruckenberg. My husband, Dan, and I have 4 daughters ages 6, 5, 4, and 2. Dan and I are both natives of Vinton and are excited to raise our daughters in the same town that we grew up in.
Over the years I have frequented the Vinton Public Library with our girls to check out books for school and leisure, borrow movies, attend story time and even grab the occasional “leisure read” for myself. The girls always look forward to going to the library.
After reading through the Vinton Public Library’s website, I found the roles of a library board member are clearly stated as “making sure the community’s needs and interests are paramount when making board decisions”, “determine whether the community is satisfied with the service received from the library”, and “regularly evaluates the director to make sure the library operates well and in the best interest of those the library serves.”
As a member of this community, I want to express my concerns of where I’ve observed the direction of our public library heading over the past couple of years. 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 into 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.
Although I am not here to ask you to remove anyone from their staffing positions, I would strongly encourage you to listen to the families, like ourselves, who are distancing themselves from the liberal agenda that seems to be happening at the library. If a liberal agenda is not the intention of the library, I ask you to please consider that this is the impression that many families are viewing it as. There has been a subtle, yet noticeable display of the LGBTQ agenda through the choices of books on display, the cross dressing of employees, Facebook posts and the question of non-gender bathrooms being considered on tonight’s agenda.
I have spoken with members and parents of this community who have recently decided to step back from supporting the library in the various activities and some even discontinuing borrowing books from the library all together due to the staffing decisions as well as the liberal books that are on the shelves – particularly in the children’s section.
I am not asking that any books be banned or even removed from the library. However, I do ask that there would a consideration for the books to be balanced on the shelves. For every book that is on display with a topic from the left side of the political aisle, I would ask that there is a book on display with a topic from the right side. For every book on display with a topic of becoming a transgender, I would ask that there is a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.
I fear that by continuing down this path of slowly bringing propaganda into our library, we will soon be having programs here in our local library that are geared towards influencing our children to accept and engage in the culture that our world is so eager to invite them into. One solution I see to keeping the children’s programming in check is to have a list of books provided each month that will be read during the upcoming weeks in story time. This would give parents the opportunity to know what content will be presented prior to bringing their children to story time and allow the parents the discretion if they would like to attend based on their social views.
The public library used to be a neutral place for an individual or families to go to check out books of their choice without having propaganda, opinions or political views – either liberal or conservative – pushed on them. I do not feel as though the Vinton Public Library is this place anymore and would ask that the staff and board consider the community values of Vinton. I would encourage the board to do their due diligence by beginning to reach out to members of this town and ask their opinions, values, and expectations of our public library. I fear that if we continue to go down the path that we are currently taking there will be less and less patrons visiting the library and our community will suffer because of it.”
“Wednesday, April 13, 2022
I’m Deb Hesson. I am a mother, grandma, and a resident of Vinton. I appreciate that Vinton is able to have a Public Library. Thank you for your time in allowing me to speak to you. I’m here to follow up to last month’s board meeting. The item is on the agenda tonight and the decision that is made regarding our 2 requests is of great importance to myself and others that are here tonight. There were two requests that we brought to you last month. I want to reiterate what was said last month during the community comments. Our intention is NOT to have any change in personnel at this public library, or to ban any books, or book displays.
One of our concerns is a potential imbalance of book perspectives on display in the Children’s library section. We are requesting that there be a balance of books on display which include an equal representation of viewpoints on gender-related topics. For instance, if there are books highlighting the LGBTQ lifestyle on display, we also believe that there should equally be books on display representing the more traditional lifestyle of a man portrayed as dad, and a woman being portrayed as mom on display, as well as books that have the Christian view that God is the creator of male & female at conception.
Our 2nd request, which is the item for discussion on the agenda tonight, is concerning the programming of the Children’s Story Time and Children’s special events. Last month we requested, that the name of the book(s) that will be used for elementary activities, be shared with the community ahead of each scheduled session. I’d like you to consider why we feel this request is appropriate. If we were to take our children to the movie theater, we would know the title of the movie ahead of time. If we wanted to know more about it, we could read reviews, watch a trailer on the movie, or we could even go to the movie ahead of time and watch the entire movie. We would have the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether we felt this was an appropriate movie for our children. If we have a question about an event or curriculum in our child’s school, we have the right to talk to the teacher or school about our question and gather the information needed. We would have the opportunity to decide if we are comfortable with our children participating in the event we are asking about.
We feel that books are a valuable tool used for teaching our children. There are a variety of perspectives in our community on the topic of gender values, origin of creation, and many other social topics. We understand that this is a Public library. One that is funded by our public dollars. We understand that because of this, the library is to offer a wide variety of genre. As adults who visit the library with our children, we have the authority and responsibility to decide what books our children check out. We don’t mind browsing through a variety of books with a variety of topics and viewpoints. We are able to select books based on our individual values, belief system, and interests of our children. When adults bring their children to the Public Library during Story Time or other special activities, we simply want families to have the opportunity to be able to discern ahead of time whether or not the books that are to be read, or the activity that is to be shared, or the special visitor that comes to share with our children, corresponds with values of each family, regardless of their personal views.
From February-June on the Vinton Library’s Website, The Calendar for Preschool Storytime states very generically what the program entails. For each date, with the exception on one special activity for kids, the information is exactly the same. It reads:
Tuesdays at 10am
Geared toward children 2-6 years old, this storytime will include fun stories, songs, and rhymes! Our request: We would like to know the title of the book(s) being shared on each designated day.
April 12- Special Storytime by Library for the Blind
Denise Bean, Youth Services Librarian from the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, will lead an interactive storytime for children of all abilities! Our Request: We would like to know the title of book(s) being shared.
In the same manner, the program “Steam for Kids” for each session reads:
STEAM for Kids
Mondays at 3:30pm
School-aged kids are invited to participate in science, math, art, and engineering activities!
I’m confident that your staff puts a lot of thought and preparation into these sessions, and that children enjoy participating in them. Our request: We would like to know the book/s being shared.
I was an elementary school teacher for 30 years. I was required to have in-depth lesson plans for each topic I taught, which included the text that was to be used, the objective/goals, and how I would carry out the lesson plans and how I would know my goal was achieved. I’m confident that you also make plans for each story time session and special activities for our elementary children well in advance. Our intent is not to make more work for the staff. A simple title of the book that is to be read or used during times with elementary children is sufficient. This will allow patrons of Vinton to do their own research and decide for themselves if this is a session they wish to bring their children to, or like the movies, simply wait for another opportunity down the road.
We feel our requests are simple ones. One, a Public Library, should have a balance of books that portray a variety of views on any given topic, so we are simply asking for this. Second, the Public Library should be a place where the library works with the families in the community. The Patrons of our community have the right to decide what they want their children to read or have read to them. So we are simply asking for this information ahead of time.
In closing, as you discuss these requests, I’d like you to consider 2 questions; 1) “Why would a Public Library not be willing to have a balance of books on the shelves? 2) Why would a Public Library not be willing to publish ahead of time the names of books, materials, or special visitors that will be used with children during Story Time or Special Children’s Activities?
Thank you for your time. If you have any questions from me, I would be happy to answer them.”
Greenlee’s response shared in April:
“First, I will address Ms. Kruckenberg’s complaints about the staff. Ms. Kruckenberg stated that the library doesn’t represent the town well due to the “majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community”. She also went on to complain about the “cross-dressing of employees”. Though Ms. Kruckenberg stated that she does not ask for staff to be removed, this veiled statement demonstrates otherwise.
The words in this statement are discriminatory, hurtful, and serve to undermine the integrity of my staff, which is completely unacceptable. Due to this statement, I have instructed my staff to immediately let me know if they feel unsafe, threatened, harassed, or discriminated against by a library patron so I can handle the situation as effectively as possible.”
The City of Vinton is an Equal Opportunity Employer which means that we hire regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious background, and more. It is illegal for an employer to ask about or discriminate based on these qualities. The staff at the library were hired due to their abilities to work effectively within their roles, and they prove their abilities to me everyday in the ways they work with our patrons and with each other.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly explains protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission states, “It is unlawful for an employer to create or tolerate such harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, if an employee reports such harassment by a customer or client, the employer must take steps to stop the harassment and prevent it from happening again.” Therefore, it is my job to make sure discriminatory comments, such as those in Ms. Kruckenberg’s statement, don’t happen again.
Title VII protects employees from other discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity as well. Employees have the right to dress consistently with their gender identity without discrimination. Additionally, employers are “not allowed to fire, refuse to hire, or take assignments away from someone (or discriminate in any other way) because customers or clients would prefer to work with people who have a different sexual orientation or gender identity. Employers also are not allowed to segregate employees based on actual or perceived customer preferences. (For example, it would be discriminatory to keep LGBTQ+ employees out of public-facing positions, or to direct these employees toward certaingeographic areas.)” Based on these federal protections against employee sex and gender discrimination, I hope this will be a non-issue moving forward to avoid legal actions for anyone involved.
Next, I will address the part of the statement that accuses the library of having an LGBTQ agenda and a liberal agenda based on our staff and the books we carry and display. The truth is that public libraries, including Vinton Public Library, do not have agendas. Rather, they serve a purpose. Our library recently created a Mission Statement that summarizes what our purpose is in the community. “Vinton Public Library is a bridge to our community, providing a safe, welcoming space for all community members, access to free informational resources, and connections to help our residents thrive.” Let’s consider the first part of that statement. Our library provides a safe, welcoming space for all community members. The statement does not say some community members, but all, including our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color residents, our homeless residents, our low-income residents, our Jewish, Muslim, and Atheist residents, and our LGBTQ+ residents. All are welcome at the library and deserve a place to feel safe.
Now, let’s think about the second part regarding access to free informational resources. This is a significant part of the library’s mission and includes access to information that serves all members of the community. A public library does not have an obligation to provide a ratio of materials based on the percentages of groups in the community, nor should it because that would result in a biased collection. Rather, a public library provides a wide variety of materials that reflect the backgrounds and interests of everyone not only in the community, but in the broader world as well.
Public libraries across America, including Vinton Public Library, endorse the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement. The Library Bill of Rights states that:
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
The Freedom to Read statement begins with these words:
“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently arise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.”
For our library to be accredited by the State Library of Iowa, one of the required public library standards is to have a Collection Development Policy that is “consistent with principles of intellectual freedom as found in such documents as the U.S. Constitution, the American Library Association Intellectual Freedom Manual, and the Iowa Library Association Intellectual Freedom Resource Guide.” This accreditation standard is just one of the important reasons our library develops our collection applying the Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read values.
In Ms. Kruckenberg’s statement, she mentioned concerns about the children’s collection at the library, particularly with “liberal books”, LGBTQ books, “propaganda”, and books with a topic of “becoming a transgender”. Ms. Kruckenberg requested that “for every book on display with a topic of becoming a transgender, I would ask that there is a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life”.
I recently conducted a diversity audit of the children’s collection including picture books, early readers, board books, juvenile fiction, and juvenile nonfiction. When books are cataloged, the records include Library of Congress Subject Headings that assist searchers in finding books of interest. A diversity audit is an inventory of a library’s collection that helps determine representation of underserved groups. This diversity audit used subject headings that Ms. Kruckenberg called into question. Of the 5,779 children’s materials our library holds, 3 books had a subject heading of “LGBT”, 2 books had a subject heading of “gay”, 0 books had “lesbian”, 0 books had “bisexual”, 2 had “transgender”, and 0 had “nonbinary”. In our children’s collection, 9 books had a subject heading of “Christianity”, 12 had the subject heading of “Christian”, 6 had “God” (in the Christian sense), 3 had “Jesus”, and 1 had “Church”. These numbers were adjusted for books that may have more than one subject heading so that they were not counted twice. There were also 142 children’s books that had a subject heading about a Christian holiday. Altogether, our collection has 173 children’s books based on Christian life.
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. 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. And if we continue down this rabbit hole, we would also need to significantly increase our holdings of children’s books about different religions in general since we only have 5 about Muslim life, 16 about Jewish life, 0 about Buddhist life, 0 about Hindu life, and 0 about Atheist life. The purpose of library displays is not to provide a 1:1 ratio of Christian books versus non-Christian books. Rather, our library displays offer books on a wide variety of topics and a multitude of life experiences to meet the informational and entertainment needs and wants of the diverse community that exists in Vinton.
Ms. Kruckenberg also stated that “one solution I see to keeping the children’s programming in check is to have a list of books provided each month that will be read during the upcoming weeks in storytime”. The responsibility for all programming in this library lies with me as the director, and I have witnessed nothing that indicates our children’s storytimes need to be kept in check.
Public librarians are trained to assess, seek out, and provide access to a diverse selection of quality literature. We regularly use a wide variety of professional reviews and journals to aid in our selection process, and are careful to select books that are highly recommended for their literary, informational, and entertainment qualities. Librarians use the same training to select books for storytime. Our children’s librarian, Colton, is certified as a Youth Services librarian by the State Library of Iowa, and he has attended youth-specific conferences and trainings that have developed his skills with children’s programming. When Colton chooses storytime books, they have engaging stories, eye-catching illustrations, and reflect different life experiences, languages, and characters. The American Library Association states that “Socially excluded, marginalized, and underrepresented people, not just the mainstream majority, should be able to see themselves reflected in the resources and programs that libraries offer.”
In our library, storytime materials are planned out with a very short lead time. We do not plan out a month ahead and often choose a selection of books the week before. Librarians tend to choose 3-5 books that they might read at each storytime and adjust what they actually read based on age of attendees, participant engagement, program flow, and time constraints. Due to these circumstances, the 2 or 3 books a librarian intends to read may switch to 1 or 2 different books to accommodate the rapidly changing environment of a storytime. Storytime is an art, and it would go against best practice for a librarian to commit to reading a particular set of books without the possibility of backup books.
Based on the underlying context of Ms. Kruckenberg’s statement, a preview storytime list may result in censorship actions, possibly leading community members to think there are “bad” or “immoral” books at storytime. Publishing preview lists on social media could potentially lead to negative commentary that might inhibit the intellectual freedom of others to make their own judgments if they attended that storytime. Therefore, posting or publishing preview lists would not be an acceptable occurrence at a public library. When benchmarking with other Iowa libraries, I found no other libraries that post preview storytime lists, either.
If Ms. Kruckenberg would like to email me the Friday before storytime to personally request the list of possible books to be read the following Tuesday, I would be willing to respond to the request. Again, the understanding needs to remain that those books could change due to staffing or other programming circumstances. Otherwise, another option would be to attend storytime and listen to only the books she approves of for her children.
Finally, the question of a community survey was brought up. Public libraries regularly distribute surveys to their communities. These questions usually focus on frequency of attendance at the library, accessibility issues, underserved populations and their needs, library services, reasons why people use the library and potential barriers to using the library, programming opportunities, and library-specific questions. These questions do not address content of materials at the library, they do not address library staff, and they do not address views on appropriateness of programs. Questions must be non-leading and surveys must be relatively short or people will not take the time to respond.
Knowing these basic properties of a library survey, I believe the discussion about survey content needs to begin with library staff who, based on what we observe on a daily basis, come up with questions that would be beneficial to ask. I will also reach out to other library directors to benchmark possible questions with ones that have produced helpful results in their surveys. At that point, I could bring the survey to the board for feedback and other suggestions until the survey is ready to be distributed. The planning, implementation, and coding processes will take some time, so I would like to begin work on a survey in August since the Summer Reading Program will be my top priority in the coming months.
I will conclude this response with this thought. When I say that everyone is welcome at the library, I mean it, as long as each employee and patron is respected. I very much wish that every community member could be happy with all aspects of the library, but I have been in libraries long enough to know that is not realistic. Anecdotally, there have been many patron comments that have been positive about materials, programming, the library being a welcoming place, and more. While I hope Ms. Kruckenberg and others in the group will continue to use the library, I understand if they do not feel comfortable to do so. I will continue to run the library in a way that is inclusive of every community member regardless of their background, always using American Library Association values as my guide.”