Library Director adds clarification to Aug. 9 letter
An August 9 letter to the editor contained misinformation that has been repeated for some time by multiple people. I’d like to add some clarity to this discussion.
When I worked in Greenville, S.C., the public library received a meeting space use request from a community group hosting their own Drag Queen Story Hour. This was not a library program, it was not at the branch I managed, I had no connection with the group, and it was a one-time event. My only role was privately expressing my concern that if the group was denied equitable use of the space (as they initially were), the library would certainly lose a First Amendment lawsuit. Evidently, the library’s attorney agreed, as the event was quickly reinstated.
It would be inappropriate for me to criticize publicly any former employer for their actions or decisions. However, I am happy to share the details of my background with anyone who contacts me directly. I was extensively vetted by the Botetourt County hiring team regarding my history, and I welcomed the scrutiny.
The theory that I am part of a supposed agenda driven by the American Library Association (ALA) is interesting, since I am not a member of the ALA, nor does the ALA or any similar organization have any involvement in our library’s policies, activities, or collection. Furthermore, I have openly expressed concerns that for all its benefits, the ALA does not adequately support librarians serving conservative, rural communities.
As for the statement that I intend to “sexualize young children” by including specific materials in our children’s collection, may I remind our readers that I do not select materials; YOU do. Every title in our collection is a response to community needs and interests. Many of the same titles that some citizens identify as “harmful to minors” have been acquired in direct response to requests by Botetourt patrons, including parents of young children. They are taxpayers, too.
The August 9 letter describes me as an “activist.” I am a product of Christian fundamentalism, a graduate of Bob Jones University (two degrees), and a professional librarian with over two decades of experience serving conservative, Christian majority communities in school, university, and public library settings. The idea that I am an activist on any side is amusing to anyone who knows me. I consume media regularly from all sides of the spectrum, I listen to feedback from our patrons, I seek first to understand, and I set aside my personal beliefs and opinions to deliver what our community wants. This isn’t about me; it’s about our citizens. That means we also respond to minority voices, which include both our LGBTQ patrons AND individuals who agree with the aforementioned letter writer’s opinions. Libraries are for everyone.
Across the U.S., librarians are being harassed, threatened, and targeted by groups seeking to remove specific ideas from public discourse. In recent months, I’ve been labeled a pedophile and groomer, been the target of misinformation campaigns, received unpleasant messages, been stalked on social media, and more. Seeing this behavior, our Botetourt County Board of Supervisors clearly stated in their July 17 resolution that they “will not allow Ms. Phillips or her staff to be persecuted for doing the job that they are tasked to do, and that job is to serve all citizens of Botetourt County.”
Our public library stands firmly for the rights of all citizens to access information freely, decide what is suitable for themselves and their children, and disagree civilly with their neighbors. My responsibility is to serve this community without bias or prejudice, according to the wide variety of needs throughout the county. It is not my job, nor the library’s, to tell people what they should think, believe, or do. We provide a broad variety of materials to help citizens navigate a complex world, accessed purely of their own volition.
If you hear a rumor and wonder if it’s true, please reach out to me or visit www.BoCoFacts4U.info. I am happy to answer questions, and I welcome feedback and constructive criticism. However, like our county administrators and the vast majority of our wonderful community, I do not condone bullying tactics, the deliberate spread of misinformation, or any attempt to infringe on others’ constitutional rights.
I confess I do have some bias: I think Botetourt stands head-and-shoulders above every other locality in the U.S. I’m truly humbled and #BOCOGrateful to serve this amazing community. Thank you for all YOU do to make it so exceptional.
Julie Phillips, Executive Director
Botetourt County Libraries
Citizens need to educate themselves about library policies
The letter to the editor published in The Fincastle Herald on August 9, 2023, about the Botetourt County public library issue demonstrates that the issue is not about truth and facts; it’s about lies and half-truths. The issue is not about how the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors governs; it’s about how some citizens engage in bullying.
Contrary to the writer’s patently untrue statement, the Board of Supervisors did NOT pass a resolution recommending that the Library Board modify its policies. Rather, Botetourt County leaders unanimously adopted a resolution in support of the protection of citizens’ First Amendment and parental rights in Botetourt County libraries. The July 31 Resolution specifically – and unanimously – affirms the Botetourt County Library’s existing policies and practices.
During the July 31 meeting, Supervisors Chair Dr. Mac Scothorn simply made a suggestion that he very clearly stated he was sharing on his own personal behalf. He made it crystal clear he was not speaking for the board. His personal suggestion was to merely ask that the Botetourt County Library Board consider prohibiting minors (under age 18) from visiting county libraries unaccompanied except for 16- and 17-year-olds who have been granted written permission by a parent to do so. The Botetourt County libraries’ current policy, which was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Supervisors in its July 31 Resolution, is that children under the age of 13 must be supervised by a parent or responsible adult over the age of 18.
The August 9 letter writer, like some other misguided, ill-informed, uninformed, and/or willfully ignorant citizens, also continues to ignore the widely and readily available truthful facts and to bray about Botetourt County libraries containing “pornography” and “pedophilia” and promoting the sexualization of young children. He, like some of his fellow citizens, continues to spout and disseminate demonstrably false “facts.”
In stark contrast, Botetourt County has spent much time and money conducting its due diligence and thoroughly investigating these claims. Library Director Julie Phillips, Supervisor Steve Clinton, and County Attorney Mike Lockaby each gave exceptional, detailed, factual presentations at the board’s July 17 meeting, directly rebutting these lies. The county’s and the library’s websites are replete with truthful, factual information that refutes these lies. We will not repeat here the vast amount of actual, verified facts easily available to anyone who really cares about the truth and about actual facts.
Citizens need to educate themselves and refuse to rely on misstatements, half-truths, and outright lies of others. All of the facts discovered during the county’s investigations are available online at botetourtva.gov, Botetourt County’s official website. Read for yourself the board’s minutes. Carefully read the board’s July 17 Unanimous Resolution in Support of Library Director Julie Phillips and Botetourt County Library Staff and the board’s July 31 Unanimous Resolution. Take the time to read Attorney Lockaby’s statements and comments. Peruse BOCO Facts For U.
It is utterly shameful and completely beyond the pale that Ms. Phillips and the Botetourt County Library staff have come under bullying personal attacks by members of our community in person, in local media, online, and again in the August 9 letter to the editor. Fear does not drive these actions and words; ideology, misplaced/misdirected anger, intentional ignorance, and/or just plain hatefulness do.
Although none of the many valuable services Botetourt libraries offers to children includes a so-called “Drag Queen Story Hour,” the August 9 letter writer tries to suggest that clownishly made-up men who dress up as women in outlandish clothes should never be around a child, much less read a book to a group of children. The writer fails to recognize the good work done by men dressing up as women for worthy causes – for example, the Womenless Beauty Pageants used as fundraisers and open to all – including children. Indeed, as recently as February 2023, a Womenless Beauty Pageant was held in Botetourt County to benefit a resident who has been fighting cancer for nearly 10 years.
These citizens’ claims about Botetourt libraries containing “pornography” and “pedophilia” and promoting the sexualization of young children have been repeatedly heard, thoroughly investigated, and soundly debunked. There can be no “compromise” with people who insist on remaining intentionally oblivious to true factual information. Their minds are made up, and the facts be damned.
We are 100 percent in support of the board’s July 17 and July 31 Resolutions. We are proud of the board for unanimously passing the Resolutions. We are proud of and unequivocally support Botetourt libraries, Library Director Julie Phillips, her staff, the Library Board of Trustees, and the library’s current policies, procedures, and practices.
Thank You to the supporters of the Botetourt County Youth with Character Academy
On July 11-13, 21 rising sixth graders, representing each of the seven elementary schools, attended the Botetourt County Youth with Character Academy held at Fincastle Baptist Church. The academy was sponsored by the Botetourt County Character Counts! Leadership Council.
The attendees participated in team building activities at Camp Bethel on the first day of the academy and on other days participated in hands-on activities for each of the six pillars of character. On the third day of the academy, the attendees took Character Counts! into the community by volunteering at the Botetourt Food Pantry, participating in a mock trial led by Judge Paul Tucker, and playing Bingo with the residents at the Brian Center.
We would like to thank the following businesses and organizations who provided funding for the academy: Bank of Botetourt, Botetourt County Town and Country Women’s Club, Botetourt Education Foundation, Botetourt Recreation Department, Catawba Masonic Lodge 342, Daleville-Fincastle Lions Club, Daleville Food Lion, First Bank, and Reynolds Management.
We also appreciate the support of Botetourt County Public Schools for providing transportation for the field trips, to Fincastle Baptist Church for allowing us to use their facility for the academy, to Camp Bethel for providing team building activities and lunch, and to the Botetourt Women’s Farm Bureau for providing lunch.
Without the support of these businesses and organizations, the academy would not have been possible.
Wanda Martin, Chairperson
Youth with Character Academy