Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Critics, Supporters Of Watkinsville Library Pack Meeting Of Library Board; Reactions To Most–But Not All–Comments Respectful

***Board Votes To Move Book To Adult Section***

The meeting room at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville was standing room only at 4:10 p.m. on Monday, though the meeting of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees wasn’t scheduled to start for another 20 minutes.

By the time Library Board Chair Mark Campbell called the meeting to order, the room was filled way beyond capacity.

A line of people stretched back through the hallway, and a crowd was outside into the parking lot.

Fifty-nine people signed up to speak, and Campbell allowed 17 of them to talk before closing the public comment section of the meeting.

Seven of those who spoke–including the first four–were critical of some aspect of the library programming or content.

The remaining 10, including the last six, spoke in support of that same content and programming.

Most of those present left when the public comment section of the meeting was closed, but about 40 stayed long enough to hear the Board vote, in response to a formal request for reconsideration, to move a book from the Young Adult Fiction section to the Adult section because of its content.

They also heard Board Chair Campbell say that the Board’s role is strictly advisory, but that he and staff had agreed that staff will provide an overview of upcoming programming as part of future Board meetings.

Sign-Up Sheet

Those in attendance who wished to speak signed their names to a sheet before they entered the room.

Campbell Setting Rules For Comment

Campbell, in opening up the meeting for comment, asked that the speakers be respectful of each other and let each other speak.

Reactions to the comments of the first eight speakers, who were equally balanced between critics of the library and supporters, followed that guidance.

Andy H. and Kim H. (they refused to give their last names) spoke first, giving much attention to the Prism Club at the Library.

(James Mitchell, Oconee County Library Branch Manager, said in a telephone conversation on Tuesday that Prism is a library teen club that meets monthly and “that is meant to be a no-judgment place (for) mostly LGBTQ kids but it could be anybody.”)

Andy H. said “to regain the trust of parents in our community shutting down the Prism Plus would be a significant step in the right direction.

Kim Haltiwanger, the sixth speaker, said “I’m here to speak in support of LGBTQ themed books and activities at our library.”

“Books that feature gay characters simply make it clear that LGBTQ folks are just people, like any other people. Not weird, or unusual, or shameful,” she said.

Controversy Began

Controversy arose when Julie Mauck, Moms for Liberty organizer, former unsuccessful school board candidate, and an advocate for a LifeWise religious school program, tried to speak.

Andy H.

Mauck’s name was the third on the sign-up sheet, but it was crossed out. She also was listed as the 21st person on the list, and Campbell had said he expected only to have time for about 10 speakers.

Campbell chose to let Mauck be the ninth speaker, and that produced some negative reaction from some in the the audience.

Mauck's comments produced more.

Mauck’s Comments

Mauck told the Board that “I want you all to know that the benefit of the doubt has been given to you. You were mostly unaware of what was going on in our own library. After this meeting, you’ll be aware, and some action needs to be taken.”

Mauck was referring to the program held at the Watkinsville Library last month involving a reading in a children’s program of a book about RuPaul, a drag queen.

“LGBTQ is an acronym for sexual affiliation,” she continued. “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. And the Plus is there to be all inclusive, down to pedophiles.”

At that point, she was shouted down, and she was able to continue only when Campbell admonished the audience.

“All inclusive is all inclusive, right?” Mauck continued. “But LGBTQ+ is not for children. Any of it. None of it.”

When she learned about the June program, Mauck said, she asked “Why would a small town library be participating in a gender ideology movement and recruiting our children? How did that happen here in conservative Oconee County?”

“The sexualization and recruitment of children in this country is a plague on our nation with its roots in Marxism,” she said. “These are centuries-old Marxist tactics.”

Call For Termination Of Program

Mauck next turned her attention to Prism, one of several teen clubs at the Watkinsville Library.


Mauck, as did Andy H., referred to something written in the past about how the program operates.

“I ask that the director of our youth programs here be reassigned to an area where she will have no contact with youth,” Mauck said. “A sacred trust has been violated. Parental rights and children’s right have been violated.

“I also ask that the Prism program be dismantled. Libraries are for books, not sexually charged clubs for minors or indoctrination.”

(Later in the Board meeting, Branch Manager Mitchell said he thinks Mauck was referring to an article written by someone who worked at the Library for about six months some time in the past. Mitchell told me he thinks Prism was started about 10 years ago.)

Mauck was stopped by Campbell from finishing her comments when she ran over her allotted three minutes, but she was followed by Laura Henry, who said “I agree with everything that Julie said...I am very disappointed that this ideology is being pushed and the sexualization of children.”

Six Speakers Later

Marie Williams, holding a sign saying Libraries Are For Everyone, came forward from the back of the room to speak as the 15th speaker. (Mauck had been the ninth.)

Marie Williams Holding Sign

“I’m an Oconee County resident and Oconee County business owner and I have two kids that I raised in this district, in this county,” she said. “I’m going to talk to you today as the veteran that I am.”

“When I put my hand out and raised my other hand, and I swore to defend the Constitution of these United States, and I swore to uphold freedom. I meant it for everybody.”

“There are people in this room that want to pervert what freedom is and tell me what I can do with my kids. What I can have them read,” Williams said, her voice rising.

“They want to take away my rights. They want to take things out of the library. That’s not freedom. That a perversion of freedom,” she said.

“Inclusion is not pedophiles. That is ridiculous,” she said. “That is a deliberate perversion because we have interlopers here who is an agitator who came to this county to stir up division.”

“We have an interloper who wants to create conflict,” Williams continued. “And I raised my kids here and I know Oconee County is better than this.”

“I don’t want to be on the national news banning books,” Williams shouted. “You know who wants to? The interloper, who wants attention. So desperate for it that I won’t even say her name.”

(Mauck told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night she has lived in Oconee County less than five years.)

Other Comments

Shelly Mauldin was the last of those to speak against library programming, and she focused on Pride month.


She said she visited the library in June and encountered in the children’s section “a full display for Pride Month. We chose to leave...We did not enter the doors of our library in the month of June.”

“It’s too much,” she said. “It’s not neutral. It’s all controversial. It doesn’t belong in the library. A library is about literature.”

“It is not the public library’s job to introduce or discuss any topic about sexual orientation with any child, ever,” she said. “It is your job, and our job, to encourage the love of literature.”

Mike Patton told the Board that “I think we should leave the programming of the library to the professionals."

“Let’s forget these culture wars silliness,” he said, “And get to the basic. Let’s have a great library for the public, for everybody in the public.”

External Interruption

After Patton spoke, someone out in the hall shouted into the room: “We don’t want queers influencing our (unintelligible) children.”

Robin Williams, ignoring the shout, which came from relatively close to her, said she wanted books in the library that “I might not read. That’s ok.”

“Make your choices for your children,” she said. “I’ll make them for mine. And that’s that.”

“I’ve heard Marxism mentioned,” Gina Delfaco said. “It definitely feels like this has a political bent to it for many folks.”

“I’d like if everyone just looked through the prism of humanity,” she said, “and even the prism of social science.”

Branch Manager’s Reports

Mitchell talked about the controversy over the June program during his Branch Manager’s Report to the Board once the meeting got underway.


“We had considerable feedback, both positive and negative,” he said.

“We try to make sure that everyone sees themselves in our programs, books, and displays that we offer. That is one of our goals...And we try to treat every one the same.”

“Our mission statement is that we are committed to providing library services for all of our county’s diverse population,” he said.

Mitchell said he knew the Board had received some comments suggesting that the staff “was being yelled at or berated.”

“I would say that there were certainly some animated discussions, but no one who came to talk to me crossed that line,” he said.

“All people were respectful wherever they came from,” he said. “I know that has been out there. I wanted to clear that up.”

Request For Reconsideration

Under Old Business, the Library Board on Monday acted on the recommendation of its Intellectual Freedom Committee (officially called a Book Action Committee) regarding Flamer, a graphic novel by Mike Curato,

On March 18, Suzannah Heimel filled out a form called Request for Reconsideration of Library Resource or Service at the library in Watkinsville.

She said she did an “online search for gender, queer, lesbian, in our local library, not Pines, in general” and located the book by Mike Curato.

Heimel said she had “read, viewed” the book and listed 22 pages that “concerned” her because of a “Discussion about sex, lewd language” that she felt was “Not appropriate for 6-12 graders.”

Heimel asked the library to “reclassify (the book) for adults or paste warning labels on cover (re. Sexual content, cursing, etc.).”

The Athens Regional Library System Collection Management Team reviewed the request by Heimel and recommended “that the title be retained as currently classified in the Young Adult Fiction section of the library’s collection.”

The Intellectual Freedom Committee, consisting of Library Board Members Campbell, Rubielen Norris, Mandy Marable, Mike Eddy, and Matt Stephens, met in late May and recommended that the book be moved to the Adult section.

The Board on Monday unanimously accepted that recommendation.

New Business

“We’ve heard some discussion tonight about monthly programs and displays,” Campbell said as he turned to New Business at the end of the meeting.


The Board only meets quarterly, Campbell said, and it gets reports from the library staff on what has happened in the past.

“So one of the things that has been asked of me,” he said, “We’ve discussed this on a staff level as well, is having some additional communication to this Board at our quarterly meetings of not just what’s happened in the past quarter but what will happen in the upcoming quarter.”

“I think that is a good idea. It will create some additional work for staff to be able to do that,” he said. “It will help us to be aware of things before they happen.”

“My understanding, based on the training that I have attended as a Board member both at the county level and regional level is that we are an advisory board,” Campbell said. “ And so our role would be to advise and to try to provide advice based on the information that we’re able to obtain.”

“I am not aware of roles where we would specifically dictate,” Campbell said. “I am not aware of any policies in place where this Board would say ‘That has to happen. That can’t happen.’ We are in a specific position of making advice and advising. It is incumbent on us to have information to do that.”

No formal action was taken, but Mitchell followed up the discussion with a detailed presentation of upcoming programs at the libraries.

Budget And Wire Park

Valerie Bell, Executive Director of the Athens Regional Library System, presented the proposed Fiscal year 2024 Budget to the Board, early in the meeting during the Athens Regional Services Report.

The budget shows a $500,000 contribution from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, up from $483,000 contribution in Fiscal Year 2023.

The Oconee County Board of Education contribution remains unchanged at $31,000, and the City of Watkinsville contribution dropped from $30,000 to $21,026.

The City of Bogart contribution of $7,000 remains unchanged.

Bell said the biggest challenge facing the all ARLS libraries, including those in Oconee County, are large projected increases in health care contributions. The figure for Fiscal Year 2024 has not yet been set.

The budget, which the Board adopted, also shows the contribution of the county of $1.3 million to the new library under construction at Wire Park. The state is contributing $3.3 million, and Watkinsville is contributing $60,000.

Campbell told the Board he expects that the move to the new Library will be in January.


I recorded the video below with two cameras.

I had one on a tripod focused on the Board, and I held another in my hand.

As the speakers stood up to speak, I tried to find them in the crowd and record them on the hand held camera. Sometimes it was hard to find and focus on them.

The video below is primitively edited. I inserted the video from the hand-held camera into the file for all but the final speaker, who was better recorded on the mounted camera.

The first speaker is at 5:02 in the video.

Mauck is at 27:27 in the video.

Marie Williams is at 42:03 in the video.

Mitchell started the Branch Manager’s Report at 51:48 in the video.

The discussion of reconsideration request for Flamer begins at 1:13:43 in the video.

Discussion of how the Board should respond to the controversy over monthly programs begins at 1:28:31 in the video.


Lee Becker said...

Just a reminder.
I only publish comments that include a full, real name.

JRV said...


This is Jonathan Veit. I did include my name. I don't know what the glitch was, so I will try again:

While I don't agree with Ms. Mauck, I support her right to speak her mind. I just wish she would take her own advice, and "Leave our children alone."

Thanks for the job you do, Lee.

Jonathan Veit

Laura Bennewitz said...

Thank you for this well-written article. We appreciate how much time you spend attending events, listening patiently, compiling notes, struggling with technology, and writing and re-writing. You do a great job of clarifying and explaining complicated issues that can be confusing.
Jim and Laura Hale Bennewitz

Unknown said...

Thanks for the excellent write-ups about what's going on in the county. It feels like local journalism is slowly drying up behind paywalls or ceasing to exist altogether in some areas, so your work is appreciated.

One thing that may have been missed about Julie Mauck is that Moms for Liberty is considered an extremist group by SPLC. It feels worth noting when their members show up to meetings like this.

Seth Burnette

Julie Mauck said...

It was incredibly bizarre to hear the speakers and read these comments as though no one even listened to the mothers on the other side of the library policy, or lack thereof. First and foremost - NOT ONE PARENT asked for a single book to be banned. No one wants any books banned. What they've asked for is listed below:
1- Put sexually graphic material in the adult section (I know, I know, so many of you are just hellbent on letting your children read sexually graphic stuff)... no one wants to take that right from you. We just don't want you giving it to our children. So, put it in the adult section, and then you can tell your child to go to the adult section to get their porn, and our kids don't have to look at it. By the way, some of these books would be illegal to give to a child outside of the library, but the state of Georgia has an exclusion clause that excludes libraries.
2- Stop dividing our children into sexualized categories. If you want to have an inclusive club, don't make it sound like it's for gay and trans kids "but others can come, too". Just call it a club and let whoever wants to attend come. Take the gay pride decorations out of the kids sections - they're kids and their brains aren't ready to deal with that yet (check the science).
3 - Using "ambiguous marketing" so that "kids can get permission from their parents to attend" is deceitful. How dare the library take that position with our children.
4 - I can only imagine the heads that would roll if there was scripture hung around the library and librarians were testifying to children behind the parents' backs. The same people screaming for inclusion are probably the ones that lawyered up over the FCA having scripture on their club bulletin board at OCMS. It's just so disingenuous.

All anyone is asking is be respectful of families raising their children with Godly family values - If not sexualizing everyone's kids is too far out of the wheelhouse, maybe you're the problem. I should add that no one is surprised that Moms for Liberty was added as "anti-government" to SPLC's list. I'm certainly not pro-government, are you? If so, then you shouldn't have a problem with an actual book ban. Start listening and let's work on a plan to protect everyone's values - again, no one wants to step on your right to raise your kid the way you want to raise them. Is it really that complicated? Again, disengenuous.