Patrons expressed their concerns regarding the Macon County Public Library leadership during a meeting last week, with many calling for Macon County to end its contract with the Fontana Regional Library System.
What started as grievances over the library’s books display in June 2021 for Pride Month featuring LGTBQ books and resources, has morphed into a broader discontent with library operations and book selections. During the library board meeting, members of the public voiced their opposition to specific books available at the library that featured explicit content as well as proposed a solution of labeling LGTBQ-themed books and displaying them in a specifically marked and designated section of the library so parents can easily identify the books.
While some patrons offered solutions such as removing controversial books from the library’s selection and placing rainbow stickers on the spine of books to clearly identify them as LGTBQ, others asked the county to consider pulling out of the Fontana Regional Library System completely.
The Macon County Public Library, as well as the Nantahala Library and the Hudson Library in Highlands, operates under a regional agreement with the Board of County Commissioners from Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties for the nonprofit organization referred to the Fontana Regional Library System to provide public library services.
The first membership to the advisory board of the Macon County Public Library was approved by the Macon County Board of Commissioners in March 1980, nearly 43 years ago. The agreement states that the county will provide funding for facilities and operations of the library and that the library will be governed by policies and procedures established by the library system’s board of trustees. According to the 1980 agreement, the library board, which is appointed by the county commissioners, is responsible for planning of library needs, recommending candidates to save as the county librarian if a position becomes vacant, and to consult with and advise the county librarian about problems relative to library services as well as aid in preparing the annual budget. The board can also serve to coordinate fundraising for the library.
The last agreement, signed in 2013, states: “the Boards of County Commissioners of Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties recognize that collaboration provides the most effective and efficient means to provide public library service to the residents of said counties by unifying the administration of the participating libraries, providing professional library specialists, cooperating in the selection of books and other materials, and crossing county lines for the benefit of all; this collaboration provides opportunities for service and resource allocations otherwise beyond the financial a n d service capacities of the individual county governments and libraries.”
The contract defines the relationship between the participating counties and the library system stating that all real property such as buildings, grounds, and other facilities of each library shall be acquired and owned by the respective counties while all other property such as library materials, technology, furnishings, and books, are owned by Fontana Regional Library, with an exception for the Hudson Library in Highlands, which calls for joint ownership of materials within the library.
Because of the agreement in place, if Macon County were to withdraw from the regional library system, they would retain the building the Macon County Public Library, as well as the Nantahala Library, are operated in, however the entirety of the buildings contents would be removed at the discretion of the library system.
Macon County Commissioner Danny Antoine, who spoke against the library having a copy of the book “Gender Queer” in their catalog during the public comment session, clarified his position on the issue via email stating, “I am a strong advocate for ALL children. We live in a society with pedophiles and perverts, many of whom go unreported and prey upon children their entire lives. My belief is that adults and parents have a duty to check, question, and be outraged by images and graphic written descriptions of children engaged in sexual acts. It is our responsibility as human beings not to allow books in which children are engaged in sexual activities to be published, purchased, and commercialized. While the First Amendment allows us to check out and read books, the First Amendment does not afford pedophiles, or anyone for that matter, the opportunity to obtain sexual gratification by reading about or viewing children engaged in sexual acts. The First Amendment wasn’t put in place in order to sexualize children. The library seems to be the only place that I know of, where children can check out materials that are pornographic in images and literature. This is morally wrong and damaging to children!”
Commissioner Antoine went on to say that it is his belief that the majority of speakers who addressed the Macon County Public Library Board last week presented the argument that they wanted to be in control of their child’s access to such information. “My recollection based on reviewing the video footage of what the vast majority of speakers spoke about was their desire that they, as parents, have the discretion and authority to decide when and how to discuss sexuality with their children,” said Antoine.
On February 7, as the library board meeting began, The Southern Scoop posted a photo of the meeting to Facebook with the caption, “This afternoon we are at the monthly library board meeting at the Macon County Public Library where it is standing room only with residents expressing their frustration and concern over the promotion of LGTBQ books throughout the year at the library. Most of the speakers’ arguments were that they, as parents, be afforded the opportunity to educate and discuss these issues with their children, and their request was that governmental entities (schools and libraries) respect their decision on this.”
During the public comment period, which lasted around an hour, 14 individuals addressed the library board, nine of which specifically mentioned books, materials or displays at the library that were “LGTBQ” and specifically mentioned “LGTBQ” while expressing their concerns and frustrations. Five of the speakers shared concerns over books featuring “sexually explicit content” that are part of the library’s catalog or named on free bookmarks at the library. Out of the 5 speakers who mentioned specific books, two of the speakers specifically referenced Gender Queer or Lawn Boy, both of which are categorized as LGTBQ books.
According to Antoine, the Facebook Post published by The Southern Scoop News mischaracterized the group as being there to protest LGTBQ books. “Next, I believe that the short premature characterization that you posted on the Southern Scoop Facebook page completely missed the arguments and complaints of the speakers,” said Antoine. “Your characterization that the crowd was there to protest LGBTQ books, with suggestion that everyone in attendance is anti-LGBTQ, is a gross misrepresentation of the comments of most of the speakers.”
While some patrons called for separating from the Fontana Regional Library system, there is no indication the county intends to pursue that course of action at this time. Following the board meeting last week, the library board and representatives from the county commission agreed to work together toward a solution to address the concerns that have been received regarding specific books identified as being sexually explicit as well as identifying LGTBQ books and materials.