Jennifer Meeks, wife of State Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, is facing backlash from community members after she said she removed LGBTQ books and Pride material from Little Free Libraries in Conway and replaced them with others she found less objectionable.
Complaints surfaced after Meeks went on Facebook last week to share her thoughts on the content of the Little Free Libraries in Conway.
"I have been swapping out books in little free libraries for awhile," Meeks wrote to Facebook some time last week. "From what I have seen, a lot of these books and other things don't align with our Christian values. Today I saw a bunch of Pride stuff in one. There's a group of leftists, especially in Conway, who are very active in keeping little libraries well stocked."
Stephen Meeks told the Arkansas Times Tuesday that his wife's posts had been "misconstrued" and "blown completely out of proportion," adding that she did not want to discuss the matter.
Efforts to reach either Stephen Meeks or Jennifer Meeks for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Additional coverage by the Times quoted Meeks' stressing that his wife had not taken any LGBTQ or Pride material from the libraries, but that she has only added Christian-related books, as well as history, science and other material.
Meeks' reassurance that his wife had not been "swapping books" for ones she preferred did not sit well with residents online, as several pointed to other posts from his wife admitting to replacing books she deemed "bad" with ones she believes to be "good."
One user commented on Meeks' post, asking: "So it's okay if we take the disgusting books out and leave the appropriate ones?"
"I have taken out a bad one and left a good one in its place," Jennifer Meeks responded shortly after, confirming the allegations that her husband denied Tuesday.
"When the high school removed some from the school library, there were a lot of people upset," Jennifer Meeks wrote in a comment to a different user. "They started putting those books in little free libraries," she wrote alongside an eye-rolling emoji.
Original posts by Meeks on Facebook have since been deleted or placed under a private setting through the app.
In Conway, there are nearly a dozen of the libraries chartered through the nonprofit organization Little Free Libraries.
Little Free Libraries was founded in 2012 with hopes "to be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free Library book-exchange boxes."
Those chartering a Little Free Library are expected to follow five standards established by the nonprofit group: providing 24/7 book access, fostering new Little Free Libraries, granting Little Free Libraries to high-need areas, championing diverse books and working with key community partners.
The organization itself continues to champion diverse books through its Read in Color program, which aims to bring diverse books to Little Free Library book-sharing boxes around the world, according to LittleFreeLibrary.org.
"[Little Free Libraries] makes books available representing BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse voices to promote understanding, empathy, and inclusion."
Annie Grimes, founder of Annie's Little Library (Charter No. 104033) in Conway, said that Jennifer Meeks' actions toward the libraries in Faulkner County are frustrating for those who spend a lot of time building a library and putting in work to create a diverse catalog, just as the organization hopes for.
"The thing I find most frustrating about Meeks' actions are how fundamentally self righteous they are," Grimes said Tuesday. "To remove a book from a public resource simply because you don't agree with its subject matter is ridiculous to me. If you don't want it, don't take it. There are people within the community who would really appreciate the books that she's taking, particularly books about LGBTQ or marginalized experiences that are being banned from schools."
At times, Grimes added, she's found upwards of 10 Bibles in her library at once, which is located at the Salem Road entrance to the Tucker Creek bike trail in Conway.
"To me, Little Free Libraries represent an exchange of experience and knowledge," Grimes said. "I've found some of my favorite books of all time in my library, and I hope that I've left some books that have impacted others positively as well."
Grimes last week celebrated three years of her library and took to Instagram to share her appreciation, as well as her frustration.
"It is deeply upsetting to learn that certain people and groups within the Faulkner County community have devoted their time and energy to undoing the work I have so diligently pursued over the past three years," Grimes wrote. "Censoring a public service because it does not align with your personal (and hateful) ideology is beyond selfish, and it does unexplainable harm to those who want and need the resources that are being removed."