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New director steps in as Prattville library debate continues

Andrew Foster said the calls to remove or reclassify certain books for minors containing LGBTQ and sexual content are a “steep slope.”

Andrew Foster is the new director fo the Autauga-Prattville Public Library. Jacob Holmes/APR
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Under usual circumstances, stepping in as the new director of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library might go without much fanfare.

But these are not typical times for the Autauga-Prattville Public Library.

Andrew Foster officially stepped into the role on Wednesday, July 12. The night before, multiple citizens were once again back before the Prattville City Council to voice concerns about content contained in books in the young adult fiction section— and calling on the council to intervene by such drastic action as withholding all library funding.

“It’s not necessarily an ideal start to the position of stepping into this kind of thing for a lot of people,” Foster said. “Ultimately, with whatever happens, however this falls out, it’s up to the board. My position as director coming in isn’t to make that decision, but I definitely know where I stand on it.”

That position isn’t going to please the group of parents who have been lobbying fort he books to be reclassified or removed altogether.

“From my own perspective, I’m against the censorship,” Foster said. “It really is a very steep slope that we’re kind of standing at the edge of that. you know, if we start censoring these materials—whether everyone in the community agrees with them or not—that is going to open up challenges and censorship for other materials. That includes religious materials, materials on civil rights and slavery and other things that, you know, still are not pleasant materials for those communities that have dealt with those things … There’s such a wide range that can be affected by this depending on the decision made.”

Foster said the library relies on experts who review books to help determine what to add to its shelves, and what age they are appropriate for. The library’s relatively small staff cannot read every book in its collection, he said.

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However, if a patron finds a concern within a book, there is an established process to bring that content to the library’s attention, a process that has already been used by the concerned group of parents although it hasn’t always led to their desired results. 

When a book is submitted for reclassification, a committee is formed to read the books and determine if a reclassification needs to be made. If the complainant does not agree with the committee’s decision, it goes before a full review by the library board. 

The group of parents has been gearing up to submit a large amount of books this week ahead of the library board’s August 3 meeting.

Foster is a natural fit for the director role. He has spent the last six years as a resident of Autauga County, moving from Florida to be closer to his family. He has previously worked at the library in circulation before leaving for his most recent job as director of youth services at the Montgomery Public Library System.

“I really have missed Prattville,” Foster said. “It was a difficult decision to leave Prattville in the first place, even though I was getting a pretty significant promotion and pay raise. It was hard because it really is such a great environment that I truly have missed.”

Foster said the library fills a vital role in the community and pointed out the Prattville library offers more than just books.

“We’ve got our library of things that not a lot of people know about where we have American Girl dolls, we have a telescope you can check out, we’ve got baking pans for people that want to bake a cake and maybe you just don’t have the pan.”

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The library also offers internet service, which has only become more important as the world has become more internet-dependent since Covid.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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