Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office said in a recently obtained opinion that the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) may make funding contingent on specific policies but could not dictate protocols directly to libraries.
What started as a group of citizens concerned over sexually explicit content in children's books in the Prattville library has grown into a statewide effort to remove "obscene" and "sexually explicit" books from Alabama libraries.
Residents and lawmakers, including Gov. Kay Ivey, have petitioned the APLS board to address the issue in several ways.
State Reps. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover), Ben Harrison (R-Elkmont), Mark Gidley (R-Gadsden) and Jerry Starnes (R-Pike Road) have attended past board meetings. Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) sent official letters from their office to the board.
In August 2023, the APLS board voted to approve sending a request for an opinion from Marshall's office to determine what authority APLS has in regulating local libraries' content and procedures.
The opinion states that APLS may not mandate local public libraries to follow specific guidelines regarding age-appropriate material, but It may be able to make funding contingent on meeting certain requirements.
"The Alabama Public Library Service lacks the direct authority to impose mandatory guidelines on local public libraries regarding age-inappropriate material but may condition funding to local public libraries on implementation of such guidelines and may cancel or suspend its recognition of local public libraries or local librarians that refuse to follow them," the opinion read.
It continued, "Although APLS may not mandate local public libraries to follow guidelines, the question remains whether it may use its authority to receive and administer funds to provide incentives to follow its guidelines. Courts have upheld a governmental entity's authority to condition funding on compliance with certain requirements even though the governmental entity could not directly require such compliance."
Last month, APLS voted unanimously to withdraw its American Library Association (ALA) membership.
The ALA is at the center of the statewide debate over local libraries' inclusion of sexually explicit books made available for minors. Those opposed to the books' inclusion have pointed to the ALA's support for sexually explicit children's books and the political bias of the ALA and its leadership.
Despite APLS's decision, local libraries can still have ALA memberships and utilize their resources and training material. APLS asked Marshall's office if any state or federal statute required libraries to have ALA memberships.
"After a thorough review, this Office is unable to find any Alabama statute or regulation that would require APLS or local libraries to become members of the ALA," the opinion read. "Because this Office is limited to matters of state law, this opinion does not address the question of whether any federal statutes or regulations exist regarding requirements for ALA membership' The ALA or any federal funding source should be contacted regarding its own interpretation of funding requirements."
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