We’re here for everyone in the community – The Daily Mississippian

When Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee threatened to withdraw funding from the Ridgeland Public Library for providing LGBTQ+ materials in January, it sparked a media storm that stretched across the country and even overseas, inviting typical Mississippi critics back into media cycles. When Mississippi bestselling author Angie Thomas tweeted a fundraiser for people to donate to the library, he called on library supporters to smear the state as a whole.

Lori Barnes, director of the First Regional Library System, which includes the Oxford Public Library, said local lawmakers have no control over what materials can be accessed at the public library. Barnes said lawmakers are very supportive both financially and actively, and the library couldn’t “do what they do” without them.

But, McGee’s threat to withhold funding remained just that, a threat. He couldn’t legally purge all LGBTQ+ books from the public library.

The story continued to circulate widely, however, what most headlines lacked was an acknowledgment that the Ridgeland Board of Aldermen had rejected the mayor’s actions and that other Mississippi library systems are offering to extensive catalogs of LGBTQ+ material.

Barnes said Oxford Public Library is committed to the freedom to read by providing services for all aspects of the community. There is a very diverse community in Oxford, and the library collection should reflect this diversity.

“Really, one of the beautiful things about working in a library is that we’re there for every person in that community,” said Laura Beth Walker, branch manager of the Oxford Public Library.

CJ Winship, a UM law student from Ridgeland, wrote a recent op-ed from the Mississippi Free Pressexplaining how important it was to her to be able to find LGBTQ+ resources at her local library during a time of deep personal struggle.

“(It) helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my feelings and that others like me did exist,” said Winship, who now openly identifies as gay. “I found several self-help books that helped reassure me and reassure me that I wasn’t broken.”

Ally Watkins, the Oxford Public Library’s children’s librarian, said there were no major complaints about LGBTQ+ materials in the library. However, the library has a Dispute Policy containing a series of steps that people who wish to discuss materials can follow.

“The library is more than just documents. We offer programs, resources, computers and all kinds of things,” Watkins said. “We do our best to be a gathering place for the community.”

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