Voters in in small Iowa city decide not to give their City Council more control over library books

PELLA, Iowa (AP) — Voters in a small Iowa city narrowly decided not to support giving their City Council more power over their local library.

Just over half the voters in Pella rejected an advisory vote on whether the City Council should have more power over how the library spends its money and whether it pulls certain books from shelves, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday. Only 87 votes separated the two sides in the unofficial tally.

The measure got on the ballot in the central Iowa town of about 10,000 people about two years after some community members tried to persuade the appointed library board to ban or restrict access to Maia Kobabe’s LGBTQ+ memoir “Gender Queer.” But the board decided to keep that book in the adult section of the library.

Attempts to ban books have continued at a record pace nationwide, according to the American Library Association, especially in conservative states and communities like Pella, where former President Donald Trump won 68% of the vote in 2020.

Opponents of the Pella measure persuaded voters that it's better to keep the library somewhat insulated from politics. Like in many Iowa communities, the City Council-appointed library board has control over spending, who to hire as director and whether to remove books that are challenged. The council sets the budget.

“The current (library) system we have right now is a far more equitable system,” said Anne McCullough Kelly, a mental health counselor and chair of the Vote NO committee. “It’s not influenced by politics. And that keeps it a resource that serves, that equitably serves, all of the citizens of this community.”

Supporters had argued that having the City Council in charge would give taxpayers more say in how the library’s budget is spent and would have kept material they consider pornographic and harmful away from children.

A group of residents asked the library board in late 2021 to either remove “Gender Queer” or put it behind the checkout counter where kids can't get it. They objected to the illustrated memoir's depiction of the author's real-life journey with sexuality and gender that includes frank sexual images.