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Yancey County backs down from library takeover after heated debate, community backlash

By Taylor Thompson

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    BURNSVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — A special called joint meeting between the Yancey County Board of Commissioners and the Yancey County Public Library Board on Tuesday settled a day’s long debate over control of the library.

Last month, commission chairman Jeff Whitson made a motion to begin the process of taking over the library system and making it completely county-operated. He said the purpose was to ensure that there was no bias shown to any religious, political or ethnic platform.

The motion was tabled and sparked a heated debate as many residents believed the motion was in response to the library’s Pride display in June.

Hundreds of residents filled Monday’s county commission meeting, and a lot of that crowd returned for Tuesday’s special called meeting.

Avery-Mitchell-Yancey Regional Library Director director Amber Briggs explained to commissioners on Tuesday how being a part of the regional system is vital for their library to receive the funding that it does. She said books, technology, summer reading programs and much more do not come out of the Yancey County library budget, but from the state.

She also said the displays put up in the library are resources and the staff does not discriminate when it comes to the resources.

Briggs said that as a public library, there is an obligation to be dependable, and that includes seeking a variety of book displays that represent diversity.

“Socially excluded, marginalized and underrepresented people, not just the majority, should be able to see themselves reflected in the resources, programs and displays the library offers,” she said.

During the special called meeting, commissioners were focusing on questions regarding the library’s board members and how long they had been serving.

“The timing of asking so much about board terms is something that I take personally when you make a statement about pulling away from a library system without communicating prior to us,” Briggs told commissioners.

Whitson said county officials want to make sure everything’s done the way it should be, just like they do with every other department.

The chairman went on to say the entire situation had been a huge misunderstanding.

“We agree with everything you are doing with the library. I don’t know where it’s come from that we want to defund the library or anything like that is a misconception,” he explained.

Whitson said following the motion he made last month, the board spent time researching if a county-controlled library was possible. He said they found that it is impossible for them to do such a thing and they’re fine with that.

The room was much less divided on Tuesday, with the majority in attendance supporting the library remaining as it is and continuing to serve all people.

“We invite people, we welcome people, we pull up a seat to the table, we do not exclude people, we do not exclude people,” Yancey County resident Meghan Graham said.

Another resident, Jackie Maas, echoed the remark.

“A public library is a place where every parent can bring their children to learn about the world we live in, not some person’s curated limited version of what the world is,” Maas said.

But Angela Norris disagreed. Norris spoke in favor of a county-controlled library in which political agendas were not displayed.

“Kids shouldn’t be exposed to political agendas in a safe space like a library,” she said.

Many other residents said a person’s sexual orientation and identity is not a political agenda.

Whitson said the board will continue to work to establish better communication with all organizations it funds. As for the public library, it will remain as is in the regional system.

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