The library in Fincastle. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.

Children 13 and up can continue to visit Botetourt County libraries unsupervised, after the Library Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to maintain its current policy.

Residents of the largely rural county have been embroiled in a monthslong debate about the content of some books available in the library. Although that debate has dominated public comment periods at local government meetings, the library board’s vote was not prompted by a request from a resident but rather by a proposal from Donald “Mac” Scothorn, chairman of the county board of supervisors. Scothorn recommended adjusting the policy to require supervision for most visitors under 18.

If passed, it likely would have been the most conservative attendance policy for teenagers in the state. In many counties, children 10 and up can visit the library on their own.

The library board’s chair, Marlene Preston, said ahead of Wednesday’s vote that people of all ages should feel welcome in the library, and that many teens who visit the four branches are either dropped off by a parent or drive there on their own.

In addition, she noted the policy for issuing library cards to minors: Guardians must sign off that they take responsibility for the activity on their child’s account until they reach age 18.

Discussion among the five board members indicated that the overwhelming majority of comments from residents on the topic were in favor of maintaining the current age policy.

“I appreciate the Library Board of Trustees looking into the age matter and I fully respect their decision of keeping the current Unattended Minor Policy in place,” Scothorn said in a press release from the county Wednesday. “I know they weighed all the options and found the Botetourt policy to be appropriate.” 

The press release said he had been asked by citizens to have the age policy reviewed. 

Scothorn has not responded to a request for further comment.

Scothorn read his proposal aloud at the July 31 board of supervisors meeting before saying he would submit it to the library board.

The supervisors quickly segued into reading a resolution it passed that night in support of county libraries. Some members of the public at that meeting were confused, thinking the county had changed the policy then and there.

Five people spoke during the public comment portion of the library board’s meeting on Wednesday. Two residents shared their support of the libraries and asked that the age policy be maintained, while the other three asked the library to remove materials that they claim address sexuality and gender in a way that isn’t appropriate for children. 

Charles Ruhl (standing) speaks during the Botetourt County Library Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 16. Ruhl is a member of a group called BRACE that wants the library to remove books for children and teens it says are inappropriate due to sexual content. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

Members of a group called Botetourt Residents Against Child Exploitation, or BRACE, have called for the library to move some books out of view of children, or remove them from the library altogether. The majority of the books cited on BRACE’s website have LGBTQ+ themes or characters. 

In April, three people asked to remove a total of 13 titles from the county system. None of those were removed from the collection. Library director Julie Phillips said no additional requests to review books have been submitted since.

Libraries across the state are facing debate over whether books addressing issues of sex and gender for children and teens should be available. 

In Warren County, the library director stepped down abruptly in early August. An onslaught of book challenges led the county to withhold 75% of the annual budget it allocated for the library, which has a single location.

Appomattox County, meanwhile, remade its library board of trustees in June after opposition arose to a Pride Month display. Next week, the supervisors will consider expanding the library board so it can reinstate the library board member it ousted. 

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