MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) approved on Thursday an amended list of proposed administrative rule changes from Gov. Kay Ivey after months of back-and-forth over policies addressing sexually explicit children's books.

The APLS board met Thursday to vote on the proposed rules after a lengthy 90-day public comment period that garnered over 6,475 letters. Most of the letters, both in support and opposition, said that Ivey's recommendations were too vague.

Ivey became involved after Alabama residents began petitioning the APLS board to address the recent statewide controversy surrounding sexually explicit or inappropriate books in the children's section of public libraries.

In September, Ivey sent a letter to APLS Director Nancy Pack demanding answers about the sexually explicit books and APLS's connection with the American Library Association (ALA).

Ivey later responded by offering a series of policy recommendations, which were delayed during the public comment portion of the rules' deliberation.

The policy recommendations dictate the criteria libraries must meet to receive state funding, with most changes involving placement and selection policies to avoid directly placing sexually explicit books in the children's section.

APLS board member and Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl proposed amendments to Ivey's recommendation, which he says stemmed from observations made during the public comment period.

Wahl said the amendments did not diminish Ivey's recommendations; instead, they would add specificity so librarians know what is expected of them.

Board Chair Ron Snider said he did not support adding the amendments to the rules and did not want APLS to get involved in litigation, such as the recently filed federal lawsuit against the Prattville library, which enacted similar policies in the amendments.

Wahl motioned to advance the amendments despite Snider's protests, saying he consulted Ivey's office and the attorney general's office.

"What I heard, the two main sentiments were, one, from the opponents of the changes, that it was ambiguous and It did not provide direction to librarians to know exactly what it meant or what they needed to do," Wahl said. "On the other side, I heard the same thing: there was not a direct provision; they didn't know exactly what it was going to do and, therefore, wanted something stronger. I believe the amendments to this provide direction for both of those concerns. And so I actually think it is something that can be useful in providing direct communication from this board in a policy change that will allow librarians to know exactly what's expected of them. Not have them worry about getting in trouble."

The board voted in favor of the amendments, with Snider being the only "no" vote. The board also unanimously approved the administrative rule changes as amended, with Snider abstaining from the vote.

The rules will now be sent to the state's Legislative Services Agency for certification. They should become effective on July 17.

Wahl's amendments place several requirements on libraries contingent on their continued funding.

  • Create policies governing the selection criteria for minors and how they are safeguarded from sexually explicit or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth.

  • Approve written guidelines that ensure library sections designated for minors under the age of 18 remain free of material containing obscenity, sexually explicit or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth. Age-appropriate materials regarding history, religion, biology, or human anatomy should not be construed to be against this rule.

  • Approve written selection criteria for minors that prevent the purchase or otherwise acquiring of any material advertised for consumers under the age of 18 that contains obscenity, sexually explicit, or other material deemed inappropriate for children or youth. Age-appropriate materials regarding history, religion, biology, or human anatomy should not be construed to be against this rule.

  • Approve written guidelines that establish library cards for minors under the age of 18 must require parental approval before a minor's card is permitted to checkout materials.

After the board adjourned, Wahl thanked Ivey for her involvement in the process and praised the rule change as a step in the right direction.

Those fighting to remove the offending books from the children's section praised the board's decision, while those fighting to keep them were displeased.

Clean Up Alabama, a group formed out of the ongoing struggle in the Prattville library, applauded the decision in a statement.

"Clean Up Alabama strongly supports the actions of the APLS Board of Trustees in their decision to not only pass the Governor's suggested changes to the administrative code but also passing amendments that strengthen those changes so that children will be truly protected in Alabama public libraries," the statement read. "Praising God for this huge win, may he continue to bless the efforts of those willing to stand in the gap for the children of Alabama."

Likewise, Read Freely Alabama, the group that started in Prattville to keep the contested books in the library, slammed the decision.

"The policies approved today by the state Library Service are a sequel that no one asked for. They are virtually identical to the harmful censorship policies that Prattville's extremist-stacked library board imposed earlier this year on families who rely on the community's public libraries. The freedom to read is fundamental to democracy, and extremist efforts to impose discriminatory beliefs on library patrons are dangerous. We filed our lawsuit last week because it is crucial that the courts make clear that in our democracy, the government cannot discriminate or restrict the freedom to read, and we will continue to fight these harmful censorship policies in Alabama."

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