GREENVILLE – The Greenville County Library System Board of Trustees has voted to temporarily rename all book clubs in its internal event directory to “book club,” dropping any theme branding such as “romance” or “LGBTQIA+.”
The temporary change — passed on a 9-2 vote on Oct. 24 — will remain in place while the board’s operations committee meets to formulate a new policy to govern the system’s uncodified stance of neutrality, along with how and if library-sponsored events that contain controversial issues should be promoted. The policy may also examine what is deemed controversial.
At the end of the October meeting during the new business portion of the agenda, board chair Allan Hill distributed copies of the September/October edition of the library events guide to each of the board members. On page 3 of the brochure, he drew their attention to the “Rainbow Book Club,” a club for people 18 and older at the Anderson Road branch.
“Celebrate LGBTQIA+ literature with the Rainbow Book Club, a welcoming and inclusive community of bookworms,” reads the club’s description. This is a library-sponsored club, run by a county employee.
The four-session book club held its first meeting on September 21 and its second on October 19. “Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers and “Cemetery Boys” by Aidan Thomas were discussed respectively. The book club will hold two more meetings on November 16 and December 14 where “This Town Sleeps” by Dennis E. Staples and “Kiss Her Once for Me” by Alison Cochrun will be discussed respectively. Each of the books is currently in the library’s collection.
Hill said he received objections to the ad, saying it appeared the library was promoting the “Rainbow Book Club” and its discussed LGBTQ+ material.
“It seemed like the library chose to make a promotion of that label and that lifestyle and the agenda that goes with it,” Hill said.
“As we said last time, what the library aims to be is a place that doesn’t promote one agenda over another, especially on controversial issues,” Hill said.
Hill first said that using county funds and materials for the book club “is a departure from the previous policy that has been in place for a number of years.”
That statement was challenged by council member Brian Aufmuth, who asked what policy the brochure violated.
“The way the library has operated in the past has been that the library does not take a stand on controversial issues,” Hill responded. “We don’t need to have a written policy on this type of stuff because that’s the way it’s usually taken care of.”
Hill read a materials policy that said, “the library will not promote or censor any particular religious, moral, philosophical or political belief or opinion.”
“We’re not trying to censor the books. We’re not trying to ban the books. We’re trying to get to the option where we have the neutrality that we’ve been known for in the past,” Hill said.
After a brief discussion with several board members sharing their thoughts and suggestions, Executive Director Beverly James asked the board to guide her on how to edit the ad for the “Rainbow Book Club” for the November/December event guide coming soon. will be printed.
Councilor Elizabeth Collins suggested that all book clubs be titled “book club” with the addition of the recommended age group a list of the specific titles to be discussed. She added that the change would be temporary until a policy could be proposed by the operating committee. The motion was approved with two members in opposition.
The library will continue to host and sponsor the book club previously referred to as “Rainbow Book Club”.
The operational committee was tasked with developing a draft policy to be presented to the full board. Library committee meetings do not occur on regularly scheduled days, so the best way to find out when the committee will meet is to monitor the library board website for a posting, which is required at least 24 hours before a meeting.
During the October 24 meeting, the board also approved a revised policy on how the public can appear before it. One of the most important changes is that the public can only make public comments during full council meetings and not during committee or special called meetings.
This board meeting comes five months into a debate about library system materials, particularly those with LGBTQ content. The inflammatory incident occurred at the end of June when someone in library leadership instructed staff to remove Pride Month displays at its 12 branches. The exhibits were quickly restored after pushback.
Follow Stephanie Mirah on Twitter @stephaniemirah