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Alabama Public Library Service tables proposal to sever ties with American Library Association


Alabama Public Library Service tables proposal to sever ties with American Library Association

Nov 17, 2023 | 8:01 am ET
By Ralph Chapoco
Alabama Public Library Service tables proposal to sever ties with American Library Association
Members of the Alabama Public Library Service meet Thursday, voting to table the issue of severing ties with the American Library Association on Nov. 16, 2023. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Public Library Service Board will retain its membership with the American Library Association for the near future.

Members of the board Thursday voted to table a motion from board member John Wahl in order to  gather additional information about what the APLS could lose should it decide to sever its ties with the ALA.

“I think it is a healthy decision,” Wahl, who is also the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party,  said after the meeting. “Obviously, I have serious concerns with the American Library Association.”

Wahl in a statement Wednesday said he would make a motion for APLS “disaffiliate” from the American Library Association and adopt the amendments that Gov. Kay Ivey proposed to put in the APLS’ administrative code last month.

In his letter, Wahl expressed his concerns about the books that children may be exposed to when visiting a library that may contain what some deem as inappropriate content.

“No book should ever be banned using the power of government,” Wahl states in his letter. “However, the question at hand is not about banning books, but rather were sexually explicit books are located in a library, and should taxpayer funding be used to promote a social ideology.”

The move was part of a months-long campaign by right-wing groups that they say are about sexually explicit books but have often targeted books with LGBTQ+ themes in libraries in Alabama and around the nation, a campaign that has often met with strong pushback from local communities.

A Prattville parent over the summer complained that a book in the children’s section contained inclusive pronouns. The parent then went on to inform other parents, who then did their own search and found other titles they thought were inappropriately shelved in the children’s section.

The parents then went on to form an organization, “Clean Up Prattville” which eventually became “Clean Up Alabama.” Another group formed in opposition, starting with “Read Freely Prattville” before becoming “Read Freely Alabama.”

“This has never been about sexually explicit content, so I think we can stop pretending,” said Angie Hayden, a member of Read Freely Alabama.

Ivey in October sent a letter to APLS relaying concerns that some parents had about books in circulation they believed were sexually explicit.

Ivey listed several books as evidence. One was, “Who are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity” which she claims was marketed to children between five and eight years old. The other book is the “Pronoun Book,” about preferred pronouns, which is available to children who are three to four years old.

In a response to Ivey, APLS Director Nancy Pack wrote  that the APLS has not received and specific requests from libraries to help with resources about parents supervising their children, that it did not receive any complaints about age-inappropriate materials on display for children until the August board meeting and that it is the role of APLS to identify and recommend resources that help libraries when gathering materials for their collections.

Pack went on to state that the APLS retains the policies set by boards governing local libraries. Among them is tying state aid to policies that allow for increased parental supervision of children, require that money received from the ALA be approved by a “relevant governing authority in an open, public meeting.”

Ivey wants the APLS to “reaffirm” that local libraries may respond to parents’ concerns about sexually explicit and inappropriate materials.

Both sides have tried to rally both local and state officials to their respective causes, and the growing chorus of complaints has affected APLS on several fronts.

Wahl in September suggested creating a list of books with content that parents may find inappropriate for teenagers and children.

APLS Thursday laid out additional specifics for the process at Thursday’s meeting. The list of books with objections from the public will only be available to the library staff, and submissions will only be accepted from residents of the state. The form that people will submit must also include information about the specific book.

The board will also solicit public comment on Ivey’s recommended changes.

“When we get the public comments and have the hearing, based on the comments, if there were to be any changes, that would also have to go out for additional public comment,” said Ronald Snider, chair of the board for APLS.

Wahl cited a comment that Emily Drabinski, president of the American Library Association, made on X, formerly Twitter, in April 2022

“I just cannot believe that a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world is the president-elect of @ALALibrary,” Drabinski wrote. “I am so excited for what we will do together. Solidarity! And my mom is SO PROUD. I love you mom.”

Wahl said Drabinski identifying herself as a Marxist “is concerning to me as someone who values limited government, freedom and this grand American experiment.”

The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world, according to its website. And its goals include diversity, education and lifelong learning, as well as literacy and intellectual freedom, among others.

Drabinski has since deleted her post and said in an interview with NBC News that the backlash from the post was “regrettable.”

“I was excited to highlight and celebrate two aspects of my identity that are really important to me, and are often under a lot of scrutiny,” Drabinksi said in her interview.

Pack said she plans to pen a letter to “tell (Drabinski) that her remarks she made have very much impacted our rural libraries,” she said.