Jack Wolfe/Carolina News and Reporter
The president of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians has resigned after the state education superintendent cut ties with the organization last month.
Michelle Spires resigned Thursday, two weeks after Superintendent Ellen Weaver ended the department’s 50-year relationship with the library organization over its efforts to defend librarians amid controversial book banning debates.
Weaver sent a letter Aug. 25 to the librarian group ending the Department of Education’s partnership with it.
Tamara Cox, a former president of the library group, is now acting president through the school year’s end.
Weaver’s rebuff was completely unexpected, Cox said.
The sudden split comes as librarians and state educators were planning a joint event for October.
“That letter was the first correspondence we had about (Weaver cutting ties),” Cox said. “We have been communicating with her staff in the Department of Education all year. We have chosen the venues, chosen the dates, lined up speakers and sponsors and lunch and all that stuff working with her staff.”
Weaver’s letter said the librarian group was creating a “hostile environment” between the two organizations, using “hyperbolic rhetoric” when asking the agency to defend librarians.
Weaver specifically noted the organization’s written recommendations in May for how to handle parents’ and community members’ complaints about the content of books, which sometimes has turned into complaints about librarians.
The librarian group said members were being harassed after some people posted on social media, calling out librarians by name.
Cox said she understands Spires’ departure.
“It’s an unusual time to serve in a capacity like this and juggle family responsibilities at the same time,” Cox said. “She needed to focus on her family responsibilities instead of trying to juggle all of the issues that librarians are experiencing right now.”
The SCASL Board sent a letter in response to Weaver’s action on Aug. 31, asking for a meeting to discuss concerns and to offer solutions.
Cox said no one responded.
“Our executive secretary made multiple calls to the office, and we have not received a return phone call,” Cox said.
Cox said the librarians felt blindsided. She said some social media posts erroneously said Weaver had warned the group previously.
Since Weaver’s letter was sent to the librarian group, more than 150 new members have joined the organization, according to the SCASL’s Facebook page.
A profile picture that says “Stand with SCASL,” has been shared on Facebook by a supporter. Many community members are changing their profile images to show support as well.
Cox said she is unsure what will happen next with Weaver.
“We don’t know how she or her office will continue to communicate with librarians about state policies,” Cox said. “We don’t know how we will be able to communicate our concerns with her. We don’t know if there will ever be any professional development that we work on together. We don’t know if they will continue to provide documents that we use to evaluate our programs. You know?”
Weaver said near the end of her letter that she values librarians and media specialists.
“We will therefore plan to continue to communicate with them directly, as we seek to provide ongoing professional development and support to foster an atmosphere of cooperation between our schools, parents, and the broader community.”
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Wolfe is a junior journalism student at the University of South Carolina. He’s interested in quality-of-life stories affecting Columbia residents. He’s a staff writer for The Daily Gamecock and a newsletter editor for USC’s Sigma Chi chapter. After a summer internship in social media management, he hopes to deepen his understanding of website development technology.
Hager is a junior multimedia journalism major, and entrepreneurship and graphic design double-minor at the University of South Carolina. She wants to travel while reporting on arts and culture, social justice and environmental issues. Hager is a photographer for The Daily Gamecock and handled media and marketing for a music festival in Florida.