Washoe library board meeting results in hourslong public comment. Again.
A culture war that's raged in Nevada and beyond over book collections and events featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community boiled up again Wednesday when the Washoe County library director's evaluation led to failed motions for his termination and public comment that persisted for hours.
The lengthy public comment pushed the first action item for the 5 p.m. meeting — Washoe County Library System Director Jeff Scott’s evaluation — to past 11 p.m., which raised concerns from trustees whether to consider the matter at all.
“I would like to have a robust dialogue among my colleagues about the accomplishments of Mr. Scott, as well as what constructive feedback we might be able to provide ... I am not prepared to do that at 11 o'clock,” Trustee Ann Silver said.
She is the CEO at Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce and one of the newest members to the board who, along with Vice Chair Gianna Jacks, was appointed by the Washoe County Commission in September.
Silver referenced the inexperience of the board — the longest-serving trustee is Chair Frank Perez, who has been on the board since 2021 — as well as the importance of the item, the lack of an evaluation last year and the public input as reasons for wanting to postpone.
After a motion made to table the evaluation discussion failed, Jacks made a motion to ask Scott to voluntarily resign, which also failed. She then asked for a motion to remove Scott as director, which Chair Perez rejected.
The board eventually decided to acknowledge the existence of the data on Scott’s performance presented by Assistant County Manager David Solaro, discuss the year’s budget and table the other items before adjourning the meeting at around midnight.
During public comment, some people expressed gratitude to Scott and the library system for materials that depict LGBTQ+ experiences and for holding Drag Queen Story Hour — a children’s program that includes a drag queen reading books.
Others condemned the library system for holding the event, one person called it “a gateway to introduce the queer culture” to children. The same person said the culture is filled with “perverse, sexualized behavior and drug use” and is inappropriate for children.
Public commenters taking up hours of meeting time is nothing new in Washoe County or nationwide.
Previously, the books this group has protested include Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen, a children’s book that was confused with the same title of a book by Jonathan Evison that explores sexuality and was never intended for children.
Critics also mentioned All Boys Aren’t Blue, a series of essays by journalist and LGBTQ+ activist George M. Johnson about his childhood and adolescence growing up as a queer Black person. A few passages in the book describe gay sexual experiences and an instance of statutory rape.
The book has quickly risen to number two on the most-banned books list, according to the American Library Association, and is banned in 29 school districts nationwide. Despite the public commenters complaining that the book is available to children, the Washoe County Library website lists All Boys Aren’t Blue as adult non-fiction. However, it is also on a reading list recommended for 12-18 year olds.
Another book mentioned was Crank, a story about a young girl’s methamphetamine addiction that includes sexually explicit content as well as one scene where the protagonist is raped. It is listed as Young Adult Fiction by the Washoe County Library system.
Though some public commenters argued books that explored topics such as sexuality and abuse were not suitable for children, Maxwell Golden thanked the library for having such titles. She remembered reading The House of the Scorpion, whose protagonist, Matt, is severely abused because he is a clone.
“That book taught me that I was experiencing child abuse,” Golden said. “Without that book, without access to books with these difficult materials, like child abuse, I would never have learned that my parents were abusing me.”
Golden wasn’t the only one in support of the library at the meeting after Our Center — an LGBTQ+ community center in Reno — sent out a call for people to show up in support of the district.
Stacey Spain, the executive director of Our Center, told The Nevada Independent that she believes Drag Queen Story Hour is inclusive and literacy-based.
“When grownups show up for programs like this, which are inclusive in our libraries, we are showing our LGBTQ teens that we support them as well,” Spain said.
“We know that when LGBTQ youth have one caring adult, one interested adult in their lives, it can lessen their suicidal ideation and, gosh, I want all of our LGBTQ to make it through adolescence so that they can help change this community and culture,” Spain said.