This is the story of the Library Director who was threatened by the County Sheriff over her Library’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Summer 2020.
Amy Dodson posted her infamous diversity statement to the Douglas County Library System’s Facebook page in early July 2020. Shortly after, she received a phone call from the County District Attorney’s Office advising her to take down the statement. Not wanting to disturb the peace, she took it down. The statement was included in the upcoming board meeting packet though, so people were still able to find it online.
On Monday, July 27, 2020, the Douglas County Sheriff sent a letter to the Douglas County Library Director. This letter may be read on pages 12-14 of the full board packet. Take heed, this board packet is not for the faint of heart. His letter concluded by saying “Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help.” The Library Board meeting the following day was canceled, but you can watch the August 25, 2020 meeting here.
It is at this point in which an investigation was launched into Library Director, Amy Dodson. It is also at this point in which the American Library Association got involved. ALA President Julius C. Jefferson and OIF Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone both reached out to support Dodson. It is easy to feel alone in censorship cases, but that is what the ALA is here for! The ALA’s letter to the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees may be found here.
I talked to Amy on Zoom today, since we were both working from home. She has been the Library Director at the Douglas County Library System for six years now. She is originally from Kentucky and has worked in Colorado in addition to Nevada. Her favorite part about being a librarian is serving the public in a free and equitable way. Libraries provide free access to anything, to everything!
We talked a little bit about censorship in 2020 in addition to her specific experience. I am interested in specific pandemic related censorship trends myself. Amy thinks censorship was a bigger issue in 2020 because of the pandemic and tensions sweeping the nation. She is very hopeful for the future and believes that more people will join our fight against censorship, now that its ugliness has shown itself not only at the protest in her community but at the United States Capitol.
From a library worker perspective I asked if she could talk about the investigation. What did that look like? Amy pointed out that it is common for the area government to launch investigations in an event of the loss of public trust. Not all local investigations look the same but in this case, an attorney from Reno, NV was hired to interview library staff, the library board, and the library director. In addition to interviews, the attorney researched surrounding libraries, libraries in general, and the American Library Association. Dodson was impressed with the thoroughness of the investigation. She was fully exonerated at the Library Board meeting in November 2020. The Attorney and Board found that she has not broken any laws or rules and will keep her job as Library Director. An invoice has not been sent yet though, so we are still waiting on a final number for an impact on the library’s budget.
There was a Black Lives Matter protest on August 8, 2020 in Minden, NV. Minden is the town that the Douglas County Library is located in. There were about 20 unarmed BLM supporters present. This protest was met with an armed counterprotest of about 750-1000 individuals, which is described in more depth here. What struck Amy was that the Sheriff’s Department did not do anything to protect the BLM protestors or even clear a path for them to leave. This was all in response to the Library’s diversity statement.
Douglas County is a staunchly conservative community. Dodson reported that the community lives within its own little bubble. She believes most of the counter protesters were local to the community, while the BLM protestors were from a neighboring independent town, Carson City. Douglas County’s community has an active gun culture but this is not out of place since Nevada is an open carry state. I asked about the community’s reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement since the death of Trayvon Martin and there was nothing of note. 2020 ended up being different though.
How are things now?
The Library Board has not mentioned this event since the November 2020 meeting and has continued to allow Library staff a full reign of Library social media. The Sheriff has not mentioned this since August 2020. The investigation during a tense pandemic actually ended up bringing library staff closer together. They are still waiting for the other shoe to drop with the attorney’s bill. Other than that, things have returned to pandemic business as usual.
Towards the end of our conversation I asked her: Do you have any regrets or would you have done anything differently? Her response?
I would have been more brave and made a bigger statement.
Librarians currently facing adversity, take heed. Be brave and make statements. The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom will wholeheartedly support you.
Holly Eberle is the Teen Programming and Outreach Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in Illinois. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. In addition to intellectual freedom, she is also passionate about the opioid epidemic and getting Narcan inside every public library.