GREENVILLE — The Greenville County Library System Board of Trustees voted to temporarily rename all book clubs in its internal event guide to “book club,” dropping any themed branding such as “romance” or “LGBTQIA+”.
The temporary change — passed by a 9-2 vote on Oct. 24 — will stand 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 might 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 issue of the library event guide to each of the board members. On page 3 of the brochure, he directed their attention to the “Rainbow Book Club,” a club for people ages 18 and over at the Anderson Road Branch.
“Celebrate LGBTQIA+ literature with the Rainbow Book Club, a welcoming and inclusive community of bookworms,” the club’s description read. It is a library-sponsored club, run by a county employee.
The four-session book club held its first meeting on Sept. 21 and its second on Oct. 19. “Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers and “Cemetery Boys” by Aidan Thomas were discussed, respectively. The book club will hold two more meetings on Nov. 16 and Dec. 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 about the ad, saying it appeared that the library was promoting the “Rainbow Book Club” and its discussed LGBTQ+ materials.
“It looked like the library was choosing to make a promotion of that label and that lifestyle and the agenda that goes along with that,” Hill said.
“As we stated last time, what the library intends to be is a place that doesn’t promote any one agenda over another, especially on controversial issues,” Hill said.
Hill first said that the use of county funds and materials for the book club “is a departure from the prior policy that has been in place for a number of years.”
That statement was challenged by board member Brian Aufmuth, who asked what policy the brochure violated.
“The way the library has operated in the past has been that the library doesn’t take the position on controversial issues,” Hill responded. “We haven’t had to have a written policy in regard to this type of thing because that’s been the way it has customarily been taken care of.”
Hill read a materials policy that said, “the library will neither promote nor censor any particular religious, moral, philosophical or political conviction 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 have 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 advertisement for the “Rainbow Book Club” for the November/December events guide that will go to print soon .
Board member Elizabeth Collins moved that all book clubs be titled “book club” with the addition of the recommended age range and a list of the specific titles to be discussed. She added the change would be temporary until a policy can be suggested by the operations committee. The motion passed with two members in opposition.
The library will still host and sponsor the book club that was formerly referred to as “Rainbow Book Club.”
The operations committee was tasked with developing a draft policy to be presented to the full board. Library committee meetings do not happen on routinely scheduled days, therefore the best way to track when the committee will meet is by monitoring the library board website for a posting, which is required at least 24 hours before a meeting.
During the Oct. 24 meeting, the board also approved a revised policy on how the public can appear in front of it. One of the key changes is that the public can only make public comments during full board 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 inciting incident occurred at the end of June when someone in library leadership instructed staff to remove Pride Month displays at its 12 branches. The displays were quickly reinstated after pushback.
Follow Stephanie Mirah on Twitter @stephaniemirah