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Alabama Public Library Service board asks AG for opinion on regulating local libraries

The vote came at the urging of APLS District 5 board member John Wahl, chair of the Alabama Republican Party.

ALGOP Chairman John Wahl Facebook/John Wahl
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The Alabama Public Library Service board of directors voted Thursday to ask Attorney General Steve Marshall for his opinion on how far the service can go in regulating content at local libraries.

The vote came at the urging of APLS District 5 board member John Wahl, chair of the Alabama Republican Party, after members of the Prattville-turned-statewide effort Clean Up Alabama asked the board members to cut all ties with the American Library Association.

“This is extremely concerning to me,” Wahl said. “As a man of faith, but more importantly as someone who, it’s important for me that we represent the values of the people of Alabama. They have put trust in us. A priority for me is protecting our children from explicitly sexual activity and, if you want to call it woke policies, or whatever you want to call it, I strongly believe that we should let the children be children. It should not be a social agenda or socially engineering our children.”

Wahl suggested removing ALA guidelines from APLS policies and replacing the APLS recommended book list with a list created by the APLS itself.

Hannah Rees and Wil Sanchez spoke to the APLS board Thursday, echoing a resolution the group had proposed to members at last Saturday’s ALGOP meeting to end association between the APLS and the ALA. 

Sanchez held up the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe about her story of identifying as non-binary. It has become the most challenged book in the country according to the ALA, due particularly to its visual depictions on certain pages of sexual content. The book is available in some Alabama libraries, although it is not in the Prattville circulation.

According to a report from a far right-wing website, Rees shared training guidelines from the ALA on how to bend the rules on meeting spaces to prevent certain anti-LGBTQ events from taking place, such as Brave Books and Kirk Cameron’s recent event on Aug. 5 that was temporarily halted in Madison after the library said attendance had ballooned far out of maximum capacity. 

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In the training guidelines, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, ALA’s director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom, explains how the facially-neutral rules for use of meeting rooms can be used to create barriers to certain disfavored groups from using the meeting rooms. Int hose guidelines, she specifically notes the Brave Books event with Kirk Cameron.

APLS Director Nancy Pack spoke at the recent Autauga-Prattville Public Library board meeting, defending the ALA and noting that she had called both Millbrook and Madison libraries to ask about the Brave Books events they were planning to hold on Aug. 5, and said neither library planned to host the event, cautioning the audience against misinformation online. But some critics have questioned whether Pack may have played a role in encouraging the libraries not to allow the events to occur, although both events ultimately took place after negotiations in Madison and a change of venue from the Millbrook Public Library to a public space in Prattville.

“This issue of calling libraries to question events and encourage cancellation through fear is a particularly egregious act that needs to be addressed since the person that called has direct access to state funding and its distribution: Mrs. Nancy Pack, the director of APLS,” Sanchez said.

Wahl suggested the APLS should investigate the near-cancellation of the Madison County event.

“If I’m seeing faith-based organizations that are kept from doing events while we are allowing, say, a drag show in Mobile, I want to know why,” Wahl said. “I think that is a fair question for the people of Alabama: why are faith-based groups being denied when other things that would not be in line with Alabama values are being allowed?”

Sanchez also began to suggest the board should hire a new director, but board member Ronald Snider told Sanchez to put his request in writing.

Pack was out of office Friday when APR reached out for comment on this article.

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Rees also distributed information to the board members about ALA’s fight to prevent content filters on library computers. This has been brought up previously by Clean-Up Prattville, implicating that the ALA does not believe children should be blocked from accessing pornography. The ALA fought in the early 200os against requiring content filters on library computer in order to receive federal funding. That stance has not changed, and the ALA still discourages the use of content filtering on library computers today, although the association’s official statement on the issue notes the need for libraries to access funding.

“Research demonstrates that filters consistently both over- and underblock the content they claim to filter,” the ALA says on its website. “Filters often block adults and minors from accessing a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Content filters are unreliable because computer code and algorithms are still unable to adequately interpret, assess, and categorize the complexities of human communication, whether expressed in text or in image.”

In a press release Friday, Clean Up Alabama called the board’s reaction “lukewarm at best.”

“We look forward to seeing what comes of Wahl’s investigation in the coming weeks as we seek to protect the children of Alabama and assure our public libraries reflect the community standards and values of the people of Alabama,” the group said in the release.

The book challenges are an obviously growing topic in the state, with Prattville drawing particular attention with a book challenge that has now lasted about six months and includes 21 books officially challenged with many more in the works.

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

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