Calls for Macon County to withdraw from FRL are put to rest

By Brittney Lofthouse

Patrons expressed their concerns regarding the Macon County Public Library leadership during a meeting last week, with many calling for Macon County to end its contract with the Fontana Regional Library System. 

What started as grievances over the library’s books display in June 2021 for Pride Month featuring LGTBQ books and resources, has morphed into a broader discontent with library operations and book selections. 

During the library board meeting, members of the public voiced their opposition to specific books available at the library that featured explicit content as well as proposed a solution of labeling LGTBQ themed books and displaying them in a specifically marked and designated section of the library so parents can easily identify the books. 

While some patrons offered solutions such as removing controversial books from the library’s selection and placing rainbow stickers on the spine of books to clearly identify them as LGTBQ, others asked the county to consider pulling out of the Fontana Regional Library System completely. 

The Macon County Public Library, as well as the Nantahala Library and the Hudson Library in Highlands operates under a regional agreement with Board of County Commissioners from Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties for the nonprofit organization referred to the Fontana Regional Library System to provide public library services. 

The first membership to the advisory board of the Macon County Public Library was approved by the Macon County Board of Commissioners in March 1980, nearly 43 years ago. The agreement states that the county will provide funding for facilities and operations of the library and that the library will be governed by policies and procedures established by the library system’s board of trustees. 

According to the 1980 agreement, the library board, which is appointed by the county commissioners, is responsible for planning of library needs, recommending candidates to serve as the county librarian if a position becomes vacant, and to consult with and advise the county librarian about problems relative to library services as well as aid in preparing the annual budget. The board can also serve to coordinate fundraising for the library. 

The last agreement, signed in 2013, states: “the Boards of County Commissioners of Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties recognize that collaboration provides the most effective and efficient means to provide public library service to the residents of said counties by unifying the administration of the participating libraries, providing professional library specialists, cooperating in the selection of books and other materials, and crossing county lines for the benefit of all; this collaboration provides opportunities for service and resource allocations otherwise beyond the financial and service capacities of the individual county governments and libraries.”

The contract defines the relationship between the participating counties and the library system stating that all real property such as buildings, grounds, and other facilities of each library shall be acquired and owned by the respective counties while all other property such as library materials, technology, furnishings, and books, are owned by Fontana Regional Library, with an exception for the Hudson Library in Highlands, which calls for joint ownership of materials within the library. 

Because of the agreement in place, if Macon County were to withdraw from the regional library system, they would retain the Macon County Public Library building, as well as the Nantahala Library building, in which the libraries operate, however the entirety of the buildings contents would be removed at the discretion of the library system. 

While some patrons called for separating from the Fontana Regional Library system, there is no indication the county intends to pursue that course of action at this time.

Following the board meeting last week, the library board and representatives from the county commission agreed to work together toward a solution to address the concerns that have been received regarding specific books as well as identifying LGTBQ books and materials. 

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