After months of controversy over LGBTQ+ content on bookshelves, a small town library in Virginia has prevailed against a right wing group’s efforts to shut them down. Not only has the library managed to secure funding, but attendance peaked during the controversy as residents came in droves to show solidarity.
Like many libraries in the US, Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Virginia has faced amplified attacks from conservative residents. The group Clean Up Samuels Library has led the charge—first seeking to ban over 140 books (the majority containing LGBTQ+ content) and petitioning to halt funding when library board members refused to comply.
Samuels operates as a nonprofit but receives most of its funding from the county. In June, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted to withhold 75% of funds until library leaders agreed to revise their bylaws to allow the county more oversight.
“As I get older, I am less and less interested in putting myself in places where I’m not valued in the ways that make me feel good.”
As time stretched on, Samuels—which has been in operation since 1799—came dangerously close to shutting down. And as a result of the heated attacks on board members, Samuels’ director resigned over the summer.
According to the Washington Post, most members of Clean Up Samuels Library are affiliated with the local Catholic church and college. In response, 42 Catholic church goers signed a petition denouncing the group’s actions.
Robert Hupman, chairman of the county’s Republican Committee, also publicly disagreed with the group, writing on Facebook, “As a Republican, I do not believe in government overreach of any kind at any time.”
A counter-group, Save Samuels, formed in support of the library. In total, the community was overwhelmingly on the side of their beloved library, with attendance driven up by 15% and donations by 25% from the previous year. And the community won in the end.
On Tuesday, the county’s board and library leaders signed an agreement to restore funding. As part of the agreement, all LGBTQ+ content would remain on shelves, and the library board would remain in charge of its own governance. Samuels formally agreed to have a representative from the county on their executive committee, but they have already had such a representative in the past.
Although book bans are becoming a depressingly common occurrence in the US, it is still rare for a conservative group to go so far as to nearly shut a historic library down. But thanks to the tireless efforts of the community, it was the right wingers who were shut down.