The J. Robert Jamerson Memorial Library in Appomattox. From the library's Facebook page.

Katharine Bloodworth had a feeling she should attend the Appomattox County Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday. 

The interim director of the J. Robert Jamerson Memorial Library had noticed people taking photos of a display of Pride-themed books in the children’s section and checking out some of the titles. Reactions to the display had been mixed, she said.

But Bloodworth didn’t know until the meeting began that the library’s governing board was about to get overhauled.

Meanwhile, library board member Joetricia Humbles said she found out she had been removed from the board via Facebook messages from people asking her what had happened at the meeting.

A June library display for Pride month featured children’s books such as “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall and “If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It” by drag performer Lil Miss Hot Mess. 

A similar display had been arranged last June in the children’s section, Humbles said Thursday, and the library had received some complaints. But the library’s board of trustees had determined that the books should stay up.

This year, the complaints escalated, with some residents sending their complaints to the board of supervisors. 

The supervisors on Wednesday voted 3-2 to disband the library board due to misconduct for allowing LGBTQ+ materials to be displayed to children. It voted to fill two vacant seats with new members — and then to reinstate two of the three members it had thrown out moments before.

When Supervisor Trevor Hipps nominated Hope Adams for one of the vacant seats, he noted that he had verified with her two hours prior to the meeting that she agreed with his view that the Pride-related materials not be available in the library. 

Another supervisor, the Rev. Alfred Jones III, nominated a constituent, Nancy Billings, from the crowd, a move that appeared to be made at the spur of the moment.

Humbles, who was appointed to the library board in 2022, was the only one of the three ousted members not reappointed. Humbles also serves on the board of Appomattox for Equality, a nonprofit supporting underrepresented communities in the area. 

Humbles said she hasn’t had any contact with the board of supervisors in the year she’s been on the library board. “They’ve been invited to [library] meetings, but they’ve never attended,” she said. She didn’t say why the board might have chosen to remove her.

Books addressing LGBTQ+ and racial diversity themes have come under increased scrutiny since around 2019, said Keith Weimer, chair of the intellectual freedom committee at the Virginia Library Association. Social media groups and prominent politicians amplify the voices of parents and others who don’t want those books available in schools or public libraries, he said. 

Book challenges are far from new, he said, but claiming that books addressing LGBTQ+ themes are “grooming” children for sexual abuse is a recent tactic.  

When parents and community members have raised opposition to certain books, “There’s a tendency to treat anything LGBT or implicitly LGBT like it’s sexually explicit,” Weimer said. “These books are seen as, ‘Why is this here?’ as opposed to the idea that there are LGBT folks in the community and on the landscape, and kids need to be aware of that.” 

The American Library Association identified more than 1,200 demands to censor or ban books in the United States last year; 35 of those were in Virginia. 

In Appomattox County, the library board of trustees oversees the policies of the library and the hiring of the director, said Bloodworth, whose term as interim director ends at the end of the fiscal year, on June 30. The library director manages day-to-day operations and book selection, which is guided in large part by lists of popular releases, patron requests and packaged selections from library publishers. 

“Everyone has the right to have their opinion heard, and this library fully supports having every voice heard,” Bloodworth said Thursday. “If someone doesn’t like the contents of a book, they’re encouraged to contact the board of supervisors or a library board member.”

Humbles said that opposition to the Pride-related books started on Facebook on June 1, as soon as the display went up. Since then, she’s received letters from community members who oppose the content, but she’s also received messages of support from those in favor of keeping the books in the library — including from members of the LGBTQ+ community in Appomattox. 

When opposition to the books started again this year, the library consulted the Library of Virginia to confirm it could display the books.

The state’s guide for library governing boards requires that members “protect community members’ freedom to read, view, and listen, which might mean setting aside my personal preferences.”

“These books have always been in the library,” Humbles said. “They’re only highlighted once a year.”

All 10 people who spoke during the public comment period of Wednesday’s meeting were in favor of either moving books about LGBTQ+ topics or characters out of the view of children, or removing them from the library completely. 

One of them, Concord resident Jesse Murch, said that he wasn’t advocating for “a form of book burning” but said that the LGBTQ+ materials shouldn’t be in the library at all.

“We are taxpayers and as taxpayers, our voices are the ones that actually matter,” he said. He later added, “If you cannot perceive the kind of degeneracy that this kind of material has on young children, you’re not fit to be on a [library] board.”

A section of the library’s policies updated in 2021 declares that the library “serves people of all origins, ages, backgrounds, and views, respecting their individual library needs.” It states that the library upholds patrons’ freedom of access to information and doesn’t restrict access to facts, ideas or creative expression unless limited by law. 

The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights contains similar language, and advises: “Libraries and their library governing bodies should not resort to age restrictions in an effort to avoid actual or anticipated objections, because only a court of law can determine whether or not content is constitutionally protected.”

The Virginia Library Association’s view is that “parents have a right to control what their children read, but they don’t have the right to determine that for the entire community,” Weimer said.

Elsewhere in Virginia, Nottoway County has identified 17 books in its schools as “sexually explicit.” Madison County has banned 21 books, including some works of Shakespeare

On June 13, the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted to withhold 75% of the budget for the Samuels Public Library due to complaints about LGBTQ+ books. The board intends to release the rest of the funding when it comes to an agreement with the library about addressing those concerns, according to The Northern Virginia Daily

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that requires public schools to let parents sign off before their students can access class readings that contain sexually explicit content.

Several proposals in the 2023 legislative session had potential to strengthen parental say on children’s access to books in both schools and public libraries, but most failed to get to a vote in both chambers before the end of the session. One bill introduced by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, would have required that a parental advisory label be added to books in public libraries deemed to contain explicit materials.

Debates around access to books deemed controversial is likely to spill over into the 2024 presidential race. Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination — signed a law that requires school districts to create processes to evaluate any county resident’s concerns about books the schools have available. In May, a Miami-Dade County school removed Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” a poem written for President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021, from its elementary library section after a parent complained. 

In Appomattox, Bloodworth said the Pride-related books are still on display but have been moved to make room for the next featured collection, for a summer reading program highlighting inclusivity.

“It’s a public library. Everyone’s welcome to come in,” Bloodworth said. “There is no exclusivity in a public library. We appreciate opinions, and they are noted.” 

If you don’t like something, she said, “Don’t check it out.”

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at or 540-384-1313.