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Under threat of funding cuts, Alabama Library Service to cut ties with association

Under mounting pressure from Republican lawmakers, the Alabama Public Library Service will cut ties with the American Library Association, according to an internal memo.

Alabama libraries have come under fire recently from some parents and Republican lawmakers over the accessibility of explicit and gendered content to children, much of which has been blamed on libraries’ affiliation with the ALA. 

The largest library association in the world, the ALA has been accused by Republicans of promoting inappropriate reading material to children, with Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl saying that the organization pushes a “Marxist propaganda to sexualize our children through transgender ideology and pornography.”

Alabama Public Library Services Director Nancy Pack.

Calls for Alabama’s library agency to cut ties with the ALA were initially met with opposition, with APLS Director Nancy Pack arguing that disassociating with the organization could lead to the deprivation of “support, resources and networking opportunities.” That opposition faded, however, after several Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, and others, suggested the Legislature may take action were the issue not resolved.

On Oct. 12, Pack distributed an internal memo to the APLS Board of Directors stating her intention for the agency to cut ties with the ALA.

“Given the current climate, it is prudent that we as librarians articulate our own rationale for maintaining specific materials in our libraries, based on their importance to our patrons and our role in serving our communities,” Pack wrote.

“As Alabama public libraries we should strongly consider discontinuing the application of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights as our guiding principle, and place a much greater emphasis on addressing community needs. In response to these considerations, the APLS will discontinue our institutional membership to the ALA.”

Ryan Godfrey, APLS spokesperson, told ADN Wednesday that the decision to officially cut ties with the ALA would have to be done during the board’s next meeting on Nov. 16, but that based on the pressure from lawmakers, the decision to cut ties will more than likely prevail.

“It’s not a decision that we really wanted to make, but we felt like it was the best decision that we could make to help retain state funding to distribute to the individual libraries around the state,” Godfrey said. 

“Sen. Arthur Orr said in no uncertain terms that if they stay with ALA, ‘I predict that they will lose their funding,’ was what he said. We read the tea leaves there, so to speak. We’re just trying to do what we can to help retain funding for the library.”

In regards to the placement of controversial reading material, Pack wrote in the memo that relocating such content should “not be misconstrued as censorship in any form,” and recommended libraries use their best judgment when considering book placement.

Were the APLS to ultimately vote to cut ties with the ALA, local libraries would still have the ability to associate with the ALA at their own discretion.

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

The debate around Alabama libraries’ association with the ALA has largely been a partisan issue. 

State Democrats, including Reps. Ontario Tillman, D-Bessemer and Patrice McClammy, D-Montgomery, suggested the focus on content in libraries was “a distraction” from what they considered to be more important issues like lack of access to health care. On the other hand, Republicans, including Gov. Kay Ivey, argued it was a matter of preventing children from being exposed to inappropriate material.

One Republican who celebrated Pack’s decision to cut ties with the ALA was Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, who praised the move as “a very good compromise for the people of Alabama.”

“I really want to thank Dr. Pack for working with the governor and recommending reasonable solutions and guidelines for our local libraries,” DuBose told ADN Wednesday.

“Gov. Ivey really stressed the importance of parent input, and she said that parents should be confident that materials in children sections are, in fact, suitable for children, so I think we have reached a very good compromise for the people of Alabama. We want library boards to be active and engaged, and now that they don’t have to be under the guidelines of the ALA, that’s going to give them the freedom to do what Alabamians want them to do.”

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