MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) recently voted to enact a book collation policy as statewide voices grow in opposition to sexually explicit books for minors.
The Wednesday meeting attracted dozens of individuals, requiring an overflow room for those either supporting or opposing regulating children's books.
For months, residents in counties and municipalities across the state have raised concerns over their library's content.
Many opposed to the books have pointed to the American Library Association (ALA) and its state chapter, the Alabama Library Association (ALLA), as primary culprits in endorsing, promoting and supporting sexually explicit books and material that supports progressive gender ideology.
The ALA is a national non-profit dedicated to improving library systems through advocacy. The ALA openly promotes diversity, equity and inclusion and seeks to "apply a social justice framework to the ALA strategic directions." It has publically supported the inclusion of books many parents have found sexually inappropriate for minors.
There are growing voices calling APLS and local libraries to disaffiliate Alabama from the ALA, as several state library boards have also done.
APLS director Nancy Pack repeatedly highlighted the programs and resources offered by ALA that are helpful to librarians and staff, and pointed out that APLS and local libraries were not obligated to follow ALA guidelines or the ALA's Library Bill of Rights at every juncture.
During the public comment period, Hannah Rees, with Clean Up Alabama, began reading an excerpt from two separate books as an example. One of the books included a 10-year-old detailing performing oral sex, while the other passage was a case of a minor engaging in prostitution. Both used explicit language.
While reading, APLS chairman Ronald Snider attempted to stop the readings, but Rees pressed on. Snider ruled her out of order, but Rees persisted. Without prompting, a man who attended to support the books' inclusion exited the meeting room to grab a Montgomery Police officer and attempt to compel the officer to remove Rees from the podium. The officer promptly left the meeting room without intervention.
After Rees concluded, Snider said the excerpts were "clearly inappropriate." To which Rees retorted, "Yeah. It is very inappropriate. Exactly. And it's for children in our libraries. Thank you for admitting that."
Several others were permitted to speak, some for and some against relocating the books. Those concerned about the books who spoke said they were not attempting to rid libraries of the books. Instead, they wanted them moved from the children or young adult sections (ages 13-18). Furthermore, many who spoke claimed the books were intentionally displayed in ways that targeted the books toward a younger audience.
Those who spoke against relocating or removing the books employed general support for local libraries and free speech, while no one addressed the specific contents of the books in question.
"As a librarian, it is important to me to ensure the stories on our library shelves not only reflect the diversity of the communities we serve but also open doors and windows to worlds where people may be different than ourselves," said ALLA president Matthew Lane. "LGBTQ+, black, brown, indigenous, immigrant, and so many other stories deserve a home on our library shelves because they are the stories of our communities."
Some state lawmakers attended, and others sent a representative with official letters calling on APLS to address the ongoing issues within the libraries. State Reps. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover), Ben Harrison (R-Elkmont), Mark Gidley (R-Gadsden) and Jerry Starnes (R-Pike Road) all attended the meeting. DuBose was the only one to physically address the board. 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.
The letters from Ledbetter and Stadthagen can be found below.
DuBose read a quote from the self-proclaimed "Marxist lesbian," ALA president Emily Drabinski. Drabinski said libraries should be a place of "queerness and difference rather than democracy and citizenship."
The quote left APLS board member and Alabama GOP chair John Wahl nonplussed, who asked DuBose to reread it.
After public comment concluded, Wahl brought a motion to allow APLS to collate a list of books that may contain sexually explicit material to be available to local libraries. The list would not dictate what books a library may use. Instead, Wahl said it would prove guidance. The vote passed unanimously.
"We're at a time in history where it's important that we do protect our children," Wahl said after the meeting.
He continued, "Good government represents the people. And I think that's one of the areas that was very important. This is a common sense issue. There's always been inappropriate material for children. We rate movies. We rate video games. And this is just one of those areas where we are looking for a way to be able to share with local the libraries that there may be inappropriate material in books, and flag it for them so they have some guidance as they're looking at their collections."
Wahls also said the board was still waiting on an opinion from Attorney General Steve Marshall's office to find further what authority APLS has in policing this issue.
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