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Fired central Arkansas library director reflects on her termination

Patty Hector (right), director of the Saline County Library, listens during public comment on a resolution that would restrict children's access to books that contain "sexual content or imagery" at an April 17, 2023, meeting of the county quorum court. The court adopted the resolution and later approved an ordinance in August that led to Hector's firing in October. Leigh Espey (left) became interim library director.
John Sykes
/
Arkansas Advocate
Patty Hector (right), director of the Saline County Library, listens during public comment on a resolution that would restrict children's access to books that contain "sexual content or imagery" at an April 17, 2023, meeting of the county quorum court. The court adopted the resolution and later approved an ordinance in August that led to Hector's firing in October. Leigh Espey (left) became interim library director.

People across Saline County have spent almost five months trying to fire their library director. Last week, they finally succeeded.

Her name is Patty Hector. She came under fire after refusing point-blank to remove books from the library containing sex-ed and LGBTQ characters.

“This is where I draw the line,” she said. “You don't get to use your religion to deny rights to people.”

There have been two main antagonists in Hector's life over the past five months; first, an organization called the Saline County Republicans. The activist group put a billboard on the side of Interstate 30 calling for her termination. It said, “Director Hector Must Go.

In the time since, Hector says she has been called a pedophile and a groomer across social media. Group members have flooded library board meetings during public comment, lining up to read passages from books they disagree with.

“I personally, as a member of the community, am concerned regarding the material available to minors at the Saline County Library,” Mandy Ewald said, with an emphasis on the word minors.

At the same library board meeting, Ewald's husband Brad complained about the sex-ed book “Let's Talk About It.” The book acknowledges the existence of masturbation and contains sentences like “sexual intimacy is a powerful way to bond with another person.”

“In the Bible, God created male and female," said Ann Gardner, holding up a page of the book “Sex Is A Funny Word.”

“Page 71 tells the reader that having a penis isn't what makes you a boy,” she said.

Jerry Davidson, through an analogy, claimed that the members of the library were metaphorically “eating babies.”

“You only find any satisfaction in the death and corruption of the innocent,” he said.

Hector's detractors say they don’t want to remove books from the library, rather relocate them to a separate section minors can’t see. There is some court precedent in Arkansas making this illegal. And the Saline County Library has a policy for someone interested in removing or relocating a book which the Saline County Republicans weren’t using.

But at the end of the day, Hector says she was never going to move the books, especially ones that hadn’t gone through the proper challenge process.

“The way they’re asking it to be reallocated so that no child can get to it,” she said. “That's the same as banning.”

The second central antagonist in Hector's life the past five months is Saline County Judge Matt Brumley.

“In saying that there's nothing wrong with those books, after being asked if you read those books, is tough for me to put together,” he said.

Brumley leads the Saline County Quorum Court, the body of policymakers which would bring about Hector’s eventual termination. She says she first met Brumley when he came to her office to take issue with the queer memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” It talks about growing up gay in America, and has been a point of contention for people trying to regulate the library.

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is in the young adult section, and kids can't be in the library by themselves according to policy.

“I believe that intelligent people, and those who may not be intelligent, but can read and comprehend, can say without a shadow of a doubt that there is no possible way that this should be in an area for minors,” Brumley said.

During every Quorum Court meeting, the Saline County Republicans joined local public officials to ask for books to be removed. They held up pages of queer novels or sex-ed comic books like “It's Perfectly Normal” or “Sex Is a Funny Word.”

At library board meetings, there was some talk of creating a “new adult” section for racier YA novels. But it wouldn’t be barricaded the way the Saline County Republicans want.

All the while, the books have stayed in their place. So, the Saline County Republicans kept going. They created a website called salinecountylibrary.com displaying pages from books they want removed. This URL sounds similar to salinecountylibrary.org, the library’s actual website.

Hector has worked in libraries across the country her entire adult life. She says the outrage was random and unusual.

“Our collection has never been a problem,” she said. “Very rarely has someone said, 'I saw this book and don't want my child to read it,' and they would talk to the staff and they would say, 'Yeah that's your right, but were not going to take it out of the collection.' And when you explained it to people they were fine with it.”

The Saline County Library Alliance created pro-library billboards and websites dedicated to supporting the library, but it was too late. The Quorum Court decided to pass a resolution giving themselves power over the library, including the power to hire and fire employees.

A few days later, Brumley came to Hector’s office saying her services were no longer needed. Hector drove home quickly after. She says if she did it all again, she would make the same decision.

But for Hector, the five-month wait for her termination was almost traumatic. She says, on days when she speaks about her experience to the media, she spends the night barely sleeping. She feels a passionate dislike toward the Saline County Republicans.

“I will do everything in my power to get them out of power,” she said. “They are a danger to democracy and a danger to Saline County.”

For now, Hector is making the most of her retirement, sitting on her porch with her two dogs, in a house overlooking a golf course. She’s getting back into her old hobbies of knitting, painting, and reading.

Neither Saline County Judge Matt Brumley or the Saline County Republicans responded to a request for comment.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.