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Anderson County expands its Library Board. That worries library supporters

Kimberly Farmer
The expansion upsets many library supporters, who see it as an end-around way of censoring books by creating more positions able to vote on banning or suppressing materials.

The Anderson County Council voted to add two at-large seats to the County Library Board Tuesday.

These seats, like County Council seats, will have two-year terms. The Library Board’s seven district-representative seats have four-year terms.

County Council Vice Chairman Brett Sanders said following Tuesday’s meeting that the expansion is meant to give newly elected County Council members a greater measure of control over who is appointed to the Library Board.

Each County Council member appoints a board member for their district. Because those appointments are for four years, Sanders said, the at-large positions will allow new members a greater say over who sits on the Library Board, and who can be replaced.

County Council can only appoint, not fire, Library Board members before their terms expire.

The expansion upsets many library supporters, who see it as an end-around way of censoring books by creating more positions able to vote on banning or suppressing materials.

“We’re not against adding two new members,” said Brenda Amick, a county resident and former Library Board member, at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We don’t want two new members added for the sole purpose of censoring books.”

Ernest Mackins, an Anderson resident and former assistant principal at Belton Honea-Path High School, said, “People are wanting to expand the board, but for not the right reason. More for political reason, and this is not what we’re about.”

Sanders said there is no political motive behind the expansion and that anyone can apply for the at-large seats.

Upstate libraries have become targets by mainly ultra-conservative groups, like Moms for Liberty, who say certain library books are inappropriate for children.

Books and materials decried by activists typically feature themes of sexuality and gender identity – this argument occurred at the Greenville County Library System in 2022 – or race identity.

Conservative advocates, such as Jeff Davis of the Greenville County Republican Party, have said that efforts to move certain materials from the children’s sections of the county’s libraries are not about LGBTQ themes, as the argument is often presented; rather it is about explicit materials children should not have easy access to.

But opponents of these activists – including nonprofit organizations like the League of Women Voters and the Freedom in Libraries Advocacy Group – criticize their agenda as political theater, and an attempt to politicize libraries and crush free speech.

On its website, the League of Women Voters’ Freedom to Read SC Coalition wrote, “140 different books have been targeted for removal in South Carolina. There is a disproportionate number of titles by or about people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.”

Since posting, the number of books identified by Freedom to Read SC is 142, as of this report.

Earlier this week, library supporters speaking before the Anderson and Pickens County councils – which voted in December to add three seats to its County Library Board – denounced accusations that their county libraries are filled with objectionable materials.

“The current mass censorship campaign targeting our public library also seeks to remove books catalogued for adults,” said Pickens County resident Reba Kruse at the Pickens County Council meeting Tuesday. “I reject calls to dictate what I read and what I choose for my family to read.”

Kruse also decried “cherry-picked excerpts intended to provoke outrage” that some activists have used, which she called a “guerilla theater tactic” employed during public comment sessions at council meetings.

Pickens resident Teresa Efant said that she opposes attempts at censorship by “a small minority of individuals” and called upon the County Council to let parents choose what their children should have access to at public libraries.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.