The Rural Blog will be largely on hiatus the rest of the week as the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues hosts the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors on the University of Kentucky campus and other locations in the Bluegrass.
Monday, July 18, 2022
Rural Iowa library closed for a month after third librarian in two years resigns over local pushback to 'liberal' books
|The Vinton Public Library in Vinton, Iowa (Library of Congress photo)|
It's an extreme example of what's happening in libraries all over the country, as locals push back against a perceived liberal bias in content. "As highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country, librarians — accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities — have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk," Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter report for The New York Times. "They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation."
|Vinton in Benson County|
McMahon, now the librarian in another small town in Iowa, said locals informally complained to her that the book selection was biased against conservatives, and repeatedly checked out the controversial books and refused to return them. She recently spoke with Ayesha Rascoe of NPR about how she decides on which books to stock at the library, and denied any sort of political agenda. But, "like in a lot of small towns, gossip and conjecture and the side conversations just kind of take over. And at that point, you become unable to really do your job well," McMahon said. "You know, you think small-town libraries - oh, they don't get the controversy of New York or the big cities. Well, actually, I think the controversies, it's in small towns, I think, even worse simply because you know everyone in small towns. And change is very hard. And when change comes, these things happen."
The Vinton library board is reviewing applications for a new librarian. They're hoping to find someone who can communicate effectively with locals to explain why certain books are in the library's collection, board director Jimmy Kelly told KCCI 8 News in Des Moines. And, Kelly said obliquely, the interview process will include a warning about local turbulence: "We also want to get them to understand the situations and circumstances they might be dealing with."
Competing publishers claim rights to weekly paper in Iowa, keep publishing separate editions with same nameplate
|Photo from The Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa|
Mid-America, based in Hampton, has published the weekly for 15 years. "On April 26, Grohe wrote a letter on The Graphic-Advocate’s Facebook page explaining that the newspaper had been losing money for years — including $18,000 in 2021 — and that he was 'exploring options' for the business," WIngert reports. "Nelson said in April, Grohe had reached out to him to see if he was interested in buying The Graphic-Advocate at that time, but negotiations didn’t go well."
Kendra Breitsprecher, owner and publisher of The Dayton Leader, said she signed an agreement to buy the paper May 26, and took control June 1. "She published four issues and was listed as the owner/publisher on the newspaper’s masthead on all four issues, she said. Mid-America Publishing continued to do the printing, After about a month of owning the newspaper, Breitsprecher agreed to sell it to Nelson. . . . After Nelson took over on July 6, Grohe and Mid-America Publishing sent cease-and-desist letters to both Breitsprecher and Nelson, telling them both to stop doing business as The Graphic-Advocate.
Grohe told Wingert, “The agreement fell apart between Mid-America Publishing and the Dayton Leader, and Mid-America informed the Dayton Leader that they were revoking the agreement. The Dayton Leader agreement had not closed — there were closing conditions in the agreement that had not been met.”
|Lake City in Calhoun County (Wikipedia)|
“We are going to keep the Graphic-Advocate open,” Nelson said. “We care and we want what’s best for small communities and small-town journalism.”
"For now, it appears both publishers will continue to print their versions of The Graphic-Advocate," Wingert wriites, "with neither backing down."