Public Library Controversy

As a member of our local public library’s board of trustees, and the volunteer social media manager for the same library, I am always scouring the internet for library related news.

99.99999999% of the time, any news relating to libraries covers one or two basic topics: How to get people to use the library more or how to get increased funding for libraries. Pretty much all other library news can fall into either of those categories.

I don’t mean to give you the impression that libraries are boring.  Libraries are the opposite: they are the center of the community, provide important services and programs, and the people involved in keeping libraries going have genuine care and concern for the people they serve.  Libraries are exciting places to explore and encourage learning in people of all ages.  They are innovative, even answering the public’s desire for online connection with online lending, programming, technical training and most libraries offer precious free high-speed internet and wi-fi. It’s true! Haven’t been to you local library lately?  You should.

Given the lack of library news diversity and all the wonderful things libraries offer to every member of their community, imagine my surprise when the following story came across my desk.


Screenshot of story page

This story is just developing, and I’m running late for a library board meeting (really, I am), so here are some preliminary public relations questions to consider while we wait for more details.

  1.  How can an organization’s or business’ public relations manager handle opposition to policy changes or a policy-change clarification/interpretation in the case of the Nashville Library?
  2.  How can an organization who is trying to be inclusive of all people groups communicate this message without alienating some people?  Is this possible?



Not much has developed in this story, which is a relief.

If this had developed . . .

  • How could this have affected public library policies all across the nation?


At least twice, spokespeople for the National Public Library System answered the accusation that their policy was racist by stating the following:

“But library officials say they’re simply enforcing a library policy that says all meetings at their facilities must be open to the general public and news media.

‘The library didn’t cancel anyone’s meeting,’ said library spokeswoman Emily Waltenbaugh, referring to a Black Lives Matter meeting  for Saturday morning that the organization has now rescheduled for a church instead.

‘We’re a library,” she said. ‘We’re taxpayer funded. We have to be open to anyone anytime.'” – Joey Garrison, The Tennessean, affiliate of USA TODAY

The BLM responded that in order to protect its members from people meaning harm to the movement and its members, they only allow people who are black or “non-black people of color” to attend. – Joshua Crutchfield, spokesperson for the Nashville chapter of the Black Lives Matter group; same article as above.

Up for discussion:

  • Do you think that the Nashville Public Library system handled the situation well?
  • Is it ever okay for a group to exclude other people groups from their organization?

For example, is it okay to have all male or all female groups?

If yes,:

  • how would you handle this in your PR statements?
  • it is in an organization’s best interest to be exclusive?


As usual, all respectful and constructive dialogue is welcome and needed.


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