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Under mounting pressure, Alabama officially cuts ties with American Library Association

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After mounting pressure from Gov. Kay Ivey and several Republican lawmakers, the Alabama Public Library Service voted Tuesday to officially cut ties with the American Library Association.

A state agency that advises public libraries, the APLS has come under fire in recent months for its affiliation with the national association that has been accused by conservative groups and lawmakers of promoting inappropriate and gender ideology-based reading material to children.

“While we recognize that over the years we’ve gotten many benefits from (American Library Association) membership, particularly in terms of advocacy and program development, I’ve concluded that membership in ALA is becoming a distraction,” APLS board chairman Ronald Snider said.

Angelia Stokes, an APLS Board member, said she would support dissociation “just because of this controversy,” but said that the decision could be revisited in the future.

The vote was unanimous, meaning APLS would no longer be affiliated with the national association starting in March when the state’s current annual membership expires.

The Jan. 30 meeting of the Alabama Public Library Service Board saw dozens of supporters and opponents of the American Library Association attend.

The national association has also drawn scrutiny for comments made by its current president, Emily Drabinski, who once described herself as a Marxist

Nancy Pack, director of the APLS, initially objected to cutting ties with the organization last year, citing the “valuable” resources and networking opportunities it provides. After calls from lawmakers to cut ties with the organization grew, which included threats to cut state funding for public libraries, Pack eventually agreed to move forward with dissociation.

Following the meeting, Pack told Alabama Daily News that she was unsure as to whether the board’s action to cut ties with the association would satisfy lawmakers that had threatened to cut library funding. As to the board’s decision, Pack said it wouldn’t negatively impact APLS operations.

“There are certain principles with librarianship that have been established over 100 years ago that we’re still going to do; it won’t have ALA’s stamp on it, it’s just principles of librarianship,” she said.

Board members also discussed its new book-flagging online portal that launched in December, a tool that allows Alabamians to flag particular books they deem as inappropriate for children.

Snider said that the APLS had conducted a survey with libraries across the state to measure the new tool’s usage, a survey that saw 84 libraries respond.

“Out of the 84 libraries that responded, only eight libraries indicated they had had any complaints with respect to any books,” Snider said. “Of the eight libraries, there were 121 separate books that had been listed, and I think what that shows is most local libraries do not consider this to be a problem to the extent that we sometimes hear.”

Regarding the book-flagging online portal, Pack said it would be mostly inconsequential, and that local library directors largely disregard its submissions.

“Quite honestly, very few directors of public libraries even look at the list,” she said. “They say they know what books are being attacked in their communities because (the people making the complaints) come directly to them. If they want to know, there’s so many lists out there in the news media, (so) they don’t need the list. That’s what they’re telling us.”

Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, who has a been a vocal advocate of cutting ties with the national association, told ADN that the board “made a lot of good steps today,” and that their decision put Alabama libraries “in the right direction.”

Rep. Susan DuBose speaks during a meeting of the Alabama Public Library Service Board.

Another supporter of dissociation, Hannah Rees with Clean Up Alabama, also approved the board’s decision, but questioned whether the association’s influence would still remain in Alabama libraries.

“I think that’s a good step, but my question is, what all does that mean?” Rees told ADN. “That means they’re not paying for their membership, (but) are they still going to continue promoting the certifications that the ALA puts out for librarians and universities?”

On the opposite end of the debate, Krysti Shallenberger with Read Freely Alabama called the board’s decision “disappointing,” and called on lawmakers to provide additional resources to libraries to makeup for what was lost in cutting ties with the association.

“Some rural libraries use grants given by ALA to supplement their budgets, and so withdrawing from the ALA could potentially jeopardize that funding source,” Shallenberger told ADN. 

“So what I’m asking is that our elected officials, now that they – for a lot of them – got what they wanted, will look to fill in the gap left behind for our rural libraries who are going to be the most at risk.”

DuBose said that she did not expect the Legislature to provide more resources to libraries, suggesting instead that the APLS or other library associations could step up to provide resources and training in the vacuum created by the dissociation.

The state board Tuesday also recognized former member Virginia Doyle for her 25 years of service. Snider called her a “passionate advocate for libraries.” Doyle was removed from the board by Ivey in November after publicly criticizing lawmaker’s threats to cut state funding for public libraries.

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