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Bill to change independence of Alabama public library boards moving through state legislature


Legislation and state policy that reduces the independence of public library boards in Alabama could be debated this week. The state legislature convenes on Tuesday, Feb. 20. Republican Senator Chris Elliott’s SB10 has already passed the Alabama Senate and now goes before the Alabama House. This follows moves by Gov. Kay Ivey and state and local officials making similar efforts to restrict public library boards.

Senator Elliott introduced the bill to the Senate on the first day of 2024’s legislative session. This proposed bill gives local municipalities the explicit power to fire and replace any library board member. This power is not currently prohibited at a state level, but it is not explicitly stated either. The bill also removes staggered terms for library board members, which would put them in line with the elected officials in the municipalities over them. Republicans are also seeking to amend an anti-obscenity law in order to incarcerate dissenting librarians.

The introduction of the legislation and proposed changes to state policy following public pressure from nonprofit groups such as Clean Up Alabama, that have sought to restrict the circulation of young-adult books deemed by the group to be “pornographic, obscene or indecent” since its founding as Clean Up Prattville in 2023.

The books these groups are challenging largely include titles regarding sexual education, LGBTQ+ communities and historical racism. Opponents to the book challenges say this strategy of relying on vague, unobjective terms is largely taken from Mom’s For Liberty, a similar non-profit group challenging these same books at school boards on a national scale. Clean Up Alabama’s founder, Hannah Mann Rees, told Alabama Political Reporter her organization had been working with Mom’s For Liberty and similar groups.

Clean Up Prattville’s challenges resulted in pushback and the eventual formation of Read Freely Prattville. With multiple chapters across the state, the organization is now known as Read Freely Alabama.

“At that time, none of those books were sexually explicit,” said Angie Hayden, a founding member of Read Freely Prattville and the spokesperson for Read Freely Alabama. “They were books about pronouns. There was a book on consent called Yes, No a Conversation on Consent, and a couple of other books that were affirming of LGBTQ families.” Citizens of Prattville like Hayden organized and countered the removal of these books through public protest at the library and testimony to the city council.

Hayden says Ozark was one of the first towns that reached out to form a local chapter. Ozark’s mayor, Mark Blankenship, threatened in 2023 to restrict funding to the library over LGBTQ+ books, which he referred to as “trash.”

As this conflict started to expand across municipalities, the state started pressuring libraries through changes in policy. The Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) is the state agency that oversees public libraries. In late 2023, multiple public officials such as Governor Kay Ivey and Republican Senator Arthur Orr threatened to reduce library funding if the APLS did not rescind its membership with the American Library Association (ALA).

The ALA had previously generated controversy after their President, Emily Drabinski, made a social media post describing herself as a “Marxist Lesbian,” prompting many GOP-led states to cut ties with the association. The APLS pushed the vote on possibly rescinding from the group back until January of 2024. Immediately following that meeting, Ivey removed the single board member who directly spoke against the threatened budget cuts. When the issue came back around, the APLS voted to leave the ALA. Cindy Hohl will take office when Drabinski’s term ends this year.

According to Hayden, many Alabama librarians have faced harassment following these controversies.

“I know library professionals who have had to have their husbands come walk them out to their cars because these extremist groups have been shouting that librarians are grooming your children, librarians are sexualizing your children,” said Hayden. “It has stirred up an anger toward the mildest professionals that I can think of.” Hayden says the rights of librarians are just as much at stake as the rights of library patrons.

Hayden says, while it is unfortunate for libraries to lose the support provided by the ALA, there are bigger threats to public libraries that deserve the same amount of attention. A proposed change to the Alabama Library Code, as well as Senator Elliott’s SB10 are of much more importance to Read Freely, according to Hayden.

The proposed changes to the state code would require libraries to place any books deemed inappropriate for children in a section of the library that would be inaccessible to anyone under the age of 18. It also states that denial of library services due to someone’s age would not be considered discriminatory. The entire proposal can be read here.

“There's a period of time where people can voice their opinion. Then there's a hearing, and then those code changes will either be accepted [or] rejected. There's also possibility that that could be amended, which would start the process all over again,” said Hayden. “So, right now, we are in that 90-day public comment session. Read Freely is asking for everyone who cares about the freedom to read, constitutional librarianship [and] representation to write their letters to the APLS board.”

These public comments must be delivered directly to the APLS by mail or in person no later than 4:30 p.m. on April 29, according to the proposal and Code of AL 41-22-5.

Hayden says Read Freely is hosting multiple letter-writing workshops across the state and online.

“Other than when you go to the poll, where you can say something and have it actually affect the outcome? When the end of this 90 days is up, they are actually going to be looking at these letters, the numbers of people who speak up on either side, and they will move accordingly,” said Hayden. “Unfortunately, there's not a web submission option. It has to be a letter. And so, our focus right now is facilitating that for people. We are even setting up a process by which you can even email it to us, and we'll mail it in for you. We want to make this as easy as possible for people.”

Written comments should be mailed or hand-delivered to:

Vanessa Carr
Executive Secretary
Alabama Public Library Service
6030 Monticello Drive
Montgomery, AL 36117

A public hearing will be held on Tuesday, April 30 at the above address. Requests to make oral comments should be sent to by 4:30 p.m. on April 29. The order of oral comments will be established based on the dates that the requests are received. Oral comments at the hearing will be limited to three minutes.

While the state has been pursuing policies like SB10 and a change to the state’s code, local library boards have been making changes, too. The Prattville-Autauga Public Library recently banned books regarding LGBTQ topics entirely.

Prattville’s changed code reads in part, “… the library shall not purchase or otherwise acquire any material advertised for consumers ages 17 and under which contain content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance.” Dothan-Houston County’s library board implemented a similar policy soon after.

Shelby County Republicans have filed a bill (HB89) that would alter the unique way Shelby County’s libraries are run. The county’s library board is a nonprofit organization with members elected by constituents. The board would be up for election this September. If HB89 eventually passes, the board would instead be appointed by Shelby County legislators. The bill also has a handful of minor changes, including a requirement that at least one board member owns commercial property within the county.

Hayden, whose oldest daughter is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, says that groups like Clean Up Alabama are a vocal minority of Alabama’s constituents. She says that these efforts do little to protect children and often take opportunities away from children like her own.

“These books are representative of marginalized people. When you start moving toward the erasure of books that represent different types of people, those books are really a proxy for human beings,” said Hayden, who added that she believes this to be a non-partisan issue, but rather one regarding constitutional liberties.

“It boils down to what are supposed to be American concepts,” said Hayden. “The freedom to choose what you read, the freedom to be who you want to be and the ability to say, ‘Maybe I don't agree with that book, but other Americans have a right to access it.’”

Isabella Cornelius is a student intern at the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She’s majoring in News Media at The University of Alabama, with a minor in Political Science. In her spare time, Isabella skateboards, makes electronic music and writes video essays on game design and pop culture.

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