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Facing cuts, Alabama Library Service updates policy on children’s material

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Public Library Service will be operating next year with a budget cut by about 8.5% compared to this year, a reduction that APLS Board Chair Ronald Snider said Thursday could significantly compromise the agency’s staffing and services.

The decrease in funding made by the Legislature is about 9% less than what Gov. Kay Ivey had recommended in her 2025 proposal.

“It is, I think, a tragedy in terms of what the agency does and what we’re being asked to do more and more of that our operating budget is cut 9%,” Snider said at an APLS Board meeting in Montgomery. “For a small agency, a 9% cut is a devastating cut.”

One of the few cuts in the 2025 education budget, the funding change followed months of controversy and concerns raised by several Republican state lawmakers  with the APLS over some of its policies and questions about children’s access to content related to gender and sexuality.

Facing political pressure, the board on Thursday also voted on adopting changes to the APLS’s administrative code, standards that all public libraries must adhere to to be eligible for state aid. Those changes, made at the recommendation of Ivey, include requiring public libraries to establish policies that safeguard minors from “sexually explicit or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth.”

The proposed change also included requirements that public libraries establish written policies that determine the location or relocation of sexually explicit or inappropriate material, as well an approval process for promoting reading material to minors.

Thursday’s meeting was the board’s first meeting since the Alabama Legislature adopted the 2025 budgets. The APLS ultimately saw its operations allocations cut from $4.17 million in 2024 to just under $3.8 million.

When passed in the House, the budget for the APLS had originally been cut by $750,000, or 18%. The budget’s passage saw one dissenting vote from Rep. Marilyn Lands, D-Madison, who cited the cuts to the APLS as her reason for voting against the measure.

Members of the Senate later restored half of the cuts to the APLS, a restoration that was preserved in the budget as ultimately passed, which while an improvement, still left the APLS with a 8.5% cut.

Snider said that for the board’s meeting in June, members would need to discuss plans as to where to make cuts in terms of both programs and personnel.

“It’s going to cause tremendous harm to this agency, which only has an approved staff of 40 people,” he said.

Some lawmakers last year also took issue with the APLS’s affiliation with the American Library Association, which has come under scrutiny in recent years over its reading recommendations, as well as comments made by its president, Emily Drabinski, who once described herself as a Marxist.

Due to mounting pressure from lawmakers, the APLS ultimately voted to cut ties with the ALA and launched a new tool to allow parents to flag books for having controversial material.

Nancy Pack, APLS director, told Alabama Daily News Thursday that the agency currently had four vacancies – one at the Regional Library for the Blind in Montgomery, one in human resources, and two clerical workers – and that she was unsure if those positions could be filled with the budget shortfall.

As to where else the budget cuts could be felt in the agency, Pack told ADN it came down to staffing and utilities.

“It covers our operating budget – electricity, power, water, heating, cooling, and our staff – those are about the only things you have in the operating budget of APLS,” she said. “So when you’ve got to cut that much money, it’s going to be one of those.”

John Wahl, APLS Board member and chair of the Alabama GOP, told ADN that he had worked to restore as much funding to the APLS budget as possible, and was in support of funding the agency to Ivey’s full recommendation of $4.17 million.

“A 9% cut is a serious cut to any agency,” Wahl told ADN. 

“Can we weather it? Absolutely. Are we going to have to make hard calls? Yes, and that’s just something we’re going to have to see over the next few months how this impacts this agency and what will have to be cut.”

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