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Ivey: Local libraries should adopt policies on explicit material

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – In an open letter sent to Alabama Public Library Service Director Nancy Pack on Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey urged the state agency to instruct local libraries to adopt policies relegating explicit and gender-orientated content. Were local libraries not to adopt such policies, under Ivey’s recommendation, they would lose state funding.

Ivey first sent Pack a letter on Sept. 1, in which she raised concerns over the accessibility of sexually explicit and gender-oriented content to children and teens in public libraries. 

In the letter, Ivey also raised concerns over the APLS’s affiliation with the American Library Association, a national organization that has received scrutiny as of late from conservative lawmakers and groups over its reading recommendations and leadership.

Rep. Susan DuBose (right) speaks in favor of the APLS adopting policies to better regulate certain reading material during a Sept. 13 APLS meeting.

In response, Pack sent an open letter of her own to Ivey in which she not only defended the APLS’s affiliation with the ALA, citing funding and resource advantages of remaining affiliated, but argued that it was ultimately the responsibility of parents to control what their children read.

Apparently unsatisfied with Pack’s response, Ivey expressed her disappointment in her most recent letter to Pack, and asked that the APLS adopt a number of rule changes during its next meeting.

“In my previous letter to you, I described the core problem as the exposure of children and youth to inappropriate materials without adequate means of parental supervision,” Ivey wrote. “Unfortunately, your response does not persuade me that Alabama libraries have policies in place to strike the right balance in responding to this problem.”

Gov. Kay Ivey.

Ivey wrote that while she agreed that “parents bear ultimate responsibility for supervising their children’s reading material,” libraries could do more to “support parents in helping their children avoid harmful materials,” and specifically called for individual libraries to adopt their own policies on removing explicit material from children or teen reading sections.

Specifically, Ivey called on Pack and the APLS Board to, during its next meeting, vote to make state funding for local libraries contingent on libraries adopting their own written policies that cover the “physical location (and relocation) of sexually explicit or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth.” Ivey also asked that libraries be required to adopt policies on the approval of reading materials recommended, displayed or promoted to youth.

For the fiscal year that began this week, the state’s General Fund budget directed $6.6 million to local libraries.

Ivey also asked the APLS Board to both amend its rules and distribute a memo to all local libraries reaffirming their ability to “respond to parental concerns about sexually explicit or other inappropriate materials,” as some libraries have cited the “ALA Bill of Rights” as a reason to not relocate certain reading materials out of youth sections.

“As I said in my previous letter, when the ALA Bill of Rights prohibits age discrimination, the ALA apparently means that children should have a right to access all library content, no questions asked,” Ivey wrote. “…According to the ALA’s Office of Informational Freedom, libraries must not use ‘age restrictions’ in response to ‘objections from parents or anyone else.’ As indicated above, that position is untenable here in Alabama.”

As it relates to the ALA, while Ivey wrote that she harbors “serious misgivings about the ALA and its influence over Alabama libraries,” she did not outright call for the APLS to disassociate from the organization. Instead, Ivey called for the APLS to require all future expenditures to the organization to be vetted in an open, public meeting, and asked that state funding be contingent on this requirement as well.

Many Alabama Republicans, including House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, Reps. Scott Stadthagen and Susan DuBose have joined Ivey in her calls for the APLS better regulate reading material in libraries. On the other hand, state Democrats, including Reps. Patrice McClammy and Ontario Tillman, have both previously told Alabama Daily News that they view the effort as a “distraction” from addressing more pressing issues, such as the number of Alabamians without health care coverage.

On Thursday, the APLS published a response to Ivey’s most recent letter, saying that they have taken her suggestions and stated concerns “with the utmost seriousness.”

“The APLS is actively engaged to address the issues she has raised and recommendations she has made,” the statement reads. “We want to assure the public that our commitment to support Alabama’s libraries remains unwavering as we work to formulate a plan to address these issues.”

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