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Alabama library board approves measure to flag explicit content for children in libraries

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabamians will soon have the ability to make submissions to the state regarding books they deem inappropriate for children, suggestions for removal that will be sent to every public library in the state following a decision by the Alabama Public Library Services Board on Wednesday.

A state agency that advises and administers funds to all public libraries, the APLS has seen pressure in recent weeks from certain organizations, lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey to remove books containing sexual or gender ideology content from sections dedicated to children and teens.

The Wednesday meeting of the APLS Board was attended by dozens of Alabamians, both those supporting and opposing the removal of certain books. 

Much of the public comment section, at least for those speaking in support of removal, centered around the American Library Association, as well as its current president, Emily Drabinski, who in a now-deleted social media post described herself as a Marxist.

“The situation with ALA has only gotten worse with a Marxist president now calling for libraries to be a site for socialist organizing,” said Wil Sanchez, who described himself as a “concerned parent.”

“ALA says that these parents are (pushing for) a book ban; in reality, efforts are about parents not wanting ALA to push Marxist propaganda to sexualize our children through transgender ideology and pornography.”

Wil Sanchez speaks out against certain books being accessible to children and teens.

Sanchez also called on the Alabama Library Association, a nonprofit organization that works with the national one to promote the welfare of libraries in the state, to sever ties, and for the APLS Board to “advocate for laws to protect Alabama’s children.”

Michael Cairns, vice chair of the Ozark Dale County Library Board, argued that reducing access to any book was a First Amendment issue, and that the responsibility to protect children from certain material was ultimately the duty of parents.

“If the parent doesn’t want a child under 18 to be in the library, they don’t have to be,” Cairns said. “When I bring my 10 year old to the library, I preview every single book that she picks up to make sure it’s acceptable. This is not about personal beliefs, this is about right or wrong; I didn’t ask for any of your help to raise any of my children, and I’m not asking now.”

The APLS, as its director Nancy Pack told Capitol Journal last week, does not have the authority to dictate what material is allowed in public libraries, or in what section, and that such decisions can only be made on the local level.

Still, others continued to urge the APLS Board to do something on the matter of explicit or gender ideology-focused books for children and teens, including Hannah Rees of Clean Up Alabama, a nonprofit that advocates for “tidying up Alabama libraries.”

Rees began reading explicit excerpts from a book called Tricks that described characters engaged in sexual acts. The book, Rees said, was found in the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, and was advertised as being for those aged between 12 and 17.

Chair of the APLS Board Ronald Snider interrupted Rees, asking her to stop reading.

“I think you’re out of order at this point,” Snider said. “We clearly get the gist and it’s clearly inappropriate.”

Rees obliged with Snider’s request, but reiterated that she and her organization were not protesting books with LGBTQ characters, but rather, books with explicit sexual content.

“Any book that we’ve brought to attention is highlighting sexual acts for children and involving gender ideologies for children,” Rees said. “We’re not here to ban books, we’re here to protect our kids and create policies that are age-appropriate for kids, and maybe start rethinking about how taxpayer funds are paying for basically kiddie porn.”

Lawmakers had also joined the ranks of those calling for the APLS to prevent access of certain books to children and teens, with Reps. Susan DeBose, R-Hoover, and Jerry Starnes, R-Prattville, present at the meeting.

Rep. Susan DuBose (right) speaks out against the American Library Association during a board meeting of the Alabama Public Library Services.

“Emily Drabinski, head of the ALA, has stated her views on being a Marxist: ‘it’s very much who I am and shapes a lot of how I think about social change,’” DuBose said. “Drabinski wants to turn libraries into spaces of, and this is her quote: ‘queerness and difference rather than of democracy and citizenship.’”

DuBose was referring to an academic paper written by Drabinski and published in 2008 titled Queering Library Space: Notes Toward a New Geography of the Library. In the paper, Drabinski did not overtly advocate for libraries to become spaces of “queerness and difference rather than democracy and citizenship,” but rather, noted that such a space would need to reflect the “expansiveness” of “queerness” were a library to take that form.

DuBose called on the state library agency to disaffiliate with the national association and to recommend local libraries do the same. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, made similar requests to the APLS in an open letter shared at the meeting.

Others, such Jim Vickrey, lawyer and former president of the University of Montevallo, instead spoke in opposition to any form of book censorship.

“History teaches that book banning never works, it merely increases interest in the books banned and temporarily inconveniences those desiring to read them,” Vickrey said.

“I encourage you to leave public libraries where they are. Rely on national library standards so that a single parent or small, vocal group is not able to pressure local librarians to banish either books or the children of working parents. If parents don’t want their own children to see or read certain books, the solution is the same as it’s always been – parental intervention with their children.”

The Alabama Public Library Services Board listens to comments from Jim Vickrey.

Matthew Layne, president of the Alabama chapter of the Alabama Library Association, also spoke strongly against concentrated efforts to dictate content at libraries on a state level.

“As a librarian, it is important to me to ensure the stories on our library shelves not only reflect the diversity of the communities we serve, but also open doors and windows to worlds where people may be different than ourselves,” Layne said. “LGBTQ+, Black, brown, indigenous, immigrant and so many other stories all deserve a home on our library shelves because they are the stories of our communities.”

At the conclusion of the public comment section, John Wahl, an agency board member and chairman of the state ALGOP, said he was concerned over Drabinski’s comments describing herself as a Marxist – a political school of thought that advocates for the collective ownership of the means of production – and suggested the ALA had adopted a Marxist agenda.

“The Marxist model wants to destroy the family unit, wants to destroy local communities, and it wants to destroy faith; as Americans, we have traditionally stood for exactly the opposite,” Wahl said. 

“So with that in mind, I think it’s a tragedy that we have seen ALA adopt an agenda that supports Marxism and purposeful indoctrination of our youth. There is an agenda toward Marxism that should be concerning to every single American, and every single Alabamian, and I think it is absolutely appropriate for us to look into that, have concerns over it, and to address it.”

Wahl then proposed that the APLS create an online portal where parents or citizens could submit books that they believe contain inappropriate content for children. Those submissions, which would have to include the person’s name and address, would then be forwarded to every public library and their boards in the state.

As APLS Director Pack said last week, Wahl reiterated that it was outside the authority of the agency to mandate the content of public libraries, but that a list of potentially inappropriate books could act as guidance for local libraries to make their own decisions.

The proposal passed unanimously.

Wahls later told members of the press that there was no timeline yet as to the creation of the online portal, nor would there be any vetting by the APLS on submissions, but that the measure could be altered in the future.

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