Libraries are for – and should support – everyone
By: Lisa Hoover
A Kentucky library recently faced a backlash following an LGBTQ+ Pride Panel held in June.
The Taylor County Public Library sponsored the panel June 18. The library’s website said “in observation of National Pride month, we will be conducting our first ever Pride Panel consisting of LGBTQ+ identifiers from across the Bluegrass. This event is designed to encourage conversation through questions and stories in hopes of breaking stereotypes and becoming familiar with the LGTBQ+ community. Our panel members are: Devin Sparks (Nashville,TN/ Tompkinsville, KY), Jeremy McFarland (Campbellsville, KY/ Bowling Green, KY) , Colby Loew ( Hampton, NC/ Louisville, KY), McKenzie Cox (Campbellsville, KY/ Louisville, KY), and Spencer Jenkins (Louisville, KY). This program is open to teens, their families, and other adults.”
Taylor County Library’s Director, Tammy Snyder told me the panel was intended to help “at risk teens” through an “open conversation.” The library wanted teens to know that nothing is “worth taking your life over” and “there is so much support” available.
A Change.org petition in support of the library described the event as a chance for “education of teens and their families about the LGBTQ community.”
The petition, which requests signatures to “show the Taylor County Public Library and its Director, Tammy Snyder” that “we stand behind them in this decision,” was started by a Connie Tucker and has received more than 2,000 supporters as of this writing (June 24). The petition says “the Director of (sic) the Library showed courage, compassion and understanding towards the growing LGBTQ community and the many teens that could be struggling with the feelings associated with same sex relationships! Instead of condemning, the Library offered education to increase the understanding of the LGBTQ community.”
The support petition was in response to negative attention for the event, “most notably” from Taylor County Judge Executive Barry Smith, according to WLKY News. WLKY reports Smith as posting to Facebook, saying “regardless of what you might hear, I personally disagree with our library’s decision to host an LGBTQ pride event. While it is my sworn duty as your County Judge Executive to represent all Taylor Countians, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, my religious beliefs as a Christian teach me that homosexuality is both immoral and a sin. Thank you and god bless.” When WLKY reached out to Judge Smith, he directed questions to the library board.
Director Snyder also said she received at least five negative phone calls and a letter, but she has also received positive feedback from the community. She reiterated to me that there has been lots of support for the library, not just negative reactions.
The event was intended to allow for panel members to share their experiences and wisdom. “It was not a debate,” Snyder said. She explained there has been some pushback arguing that the event only allowed for one viewpoint. She says the library would be willing to allow events with other viewpoints, but that a debate was not the function of this particular event.
Snyder correctly points out that there are LGBTQ patrons who are also taxpayers and deserve services and materials from the library. The library has only hosted one LGBTQ event; “I believe if anything that is under representative,” she said. Library supporter Alex Brockman said something similar, stating that the library was only safe space she was aware of in Central Kentucky, according to Queer KY.
The Taylor County Public Library Facebook page mentioned a “special” meeting of the Board of Trustees planned for Thursday, June 20 with time for public comment. Although the post itself did not specifically mention the Pride Panel, a comment by the library on the post said the meeting was to “discuss the controversy in response to” the recent panel.
In the hours before the meeting, Snyder was very clear that no jobs are at risk, despite the controversy. While there were some rumors, it is “not the case” that jobs are at stake. She says the Library Board is “very supportive” and while any discussion of specific personnel must take place in executive session at the Board of Trustees meeting for privacy reasons, “nobody’s job is on the chopping block.”
Queer KY reported that the board meeting was “standing room only.” “One after one, LGBTQ+ youth and adults told their stories to the board of trustees. Stories of transitioning trans youth to mothers of gay sons pleading to keep programming like the Pride Panel going,” the story said. An anonymous source also told me that the library board supported library staff and no action was taken regarding the event.
While library materials and events related to LGBTQ+ issues have unfortunately seen plenty of challenges, and drag queen story times have proven particularly controversial (see blogs on this issue here and here), I find this particular instance especially troubling. Libraries are for everyone which, it should go without saying, includes LGBTQ+ people who, as Snyder points out, pay their taxes too. They deserve materials and programming that are relevant to them, just as much as the rest of us.
This is part of the role of libraries. The Library Bill of Rights tells us that “books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.” (Emphasis added).
The backlash to this event is particularly troubling in that the panel appears to have been designed specifically to provide information – the core purpose of a library, I would argue. This was no more “pushing an agenda” than a summer reading program with a space theme is pushing an agenda about NASA, or a library display for President’s Day is pushing an agenda supporting the presidency.
They are sharing information for patrons to use, decline to use, ignore, disagree with, or any other reaction they might have. Patrons are free to disagree with the information provided, but that doesn’t mean the library should be prevented from providing it. That’s the library’s job.
Sure, they could not host such an event if they believe it’s going to be controversial, but as stated above, librarians are obliged to offer materials for everyone. The Library Bill of Rights explicitly tells us that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
No one’s views are being left out here; when I spoke with Director Snyder she expressed willingness to allow contradictory viewpoints to be expressed at another time.
The library was fulfilling its role by providing information relevant to all patrons. I’m glad to see the community support the library has gotten in response to the backlash. I hope this experience will not dissuade the library, or other libraries like them, from offering supporting programming for all patrons, even when it may be controversial.
Change.org. (2019) Supporting The Taylor County Public Library and Director, Tammy Snyder. Retrieved from https://www.change.org/p/campbellsville-supporting-the-taylor-county-public-library-and-director-tammy-snyder?source_location=petitions_browse&fbclid=IwAR3a6lAIrqt-uYiDd5FdXd5ivIiBY0QJOlZnzrU17LgNeSw1lbSKARTw_WM June 20, 2019
Dolan, J. (2019) Taylor County library’s LGBTQ event met with public opposition from judge. WLKY.com. Retrieved from https://www.wlky.com/amp/article/taylor-county-librarys-lgbtq-event-met-with-public-opposition-from-judge/28072862?fbclid=IwAR2ETqIqd0_mFXq13DIzNeDRlRFw97AyV7tCS9jmRRydpZ46k_0RCDAwUDU June 20, 2019
Queer KY. (2019) Queer Kentuckians and Allies Gather in Support of Taylor County Library. Retrieved from https://queerkentucky.com/2019/06/21/queer-kentuckians-and-allies-gather-in-support-of-taylor-county-library/ June 24, 2019.
Taylor County Public Library. (2019) LGBTQ+ Pride Panel. Retrieved from https://www.tcplibrary.org/events/lgbtq-pride-panel June 20, 2019.
Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora and Nyx and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.