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Level-funding of Prattville library infuriates book-challenging group

Even level-funding the library has upset members of Clean Up Prattville, the group challenging the inclusion of certain books.

A Prattville citizen speaks before the Autauga-Prattville Library Board in the first-ever public comment session due to recent book challenges. Jacob Holmes/APR
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While the Autauga-Prattville Public Library is in the midst of an unprecedented book challenging campaign, Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie proposed a budget Wednesday that would level-fund the library.

The budget, posted to the city’s official website on Wednesday, includes $355,000 to the library, exactly the same as the current budget.

But even level-funding the library has upset members of Clean Up Prattville, the group challenging the inclusion of certain books in the children’s section that include gender ideology and LGBTQ representation, as well as books in the young adult section that contain some sexual content.

“The library continues to violate state law and basic human decency by providing children access to pornographic and obscene materials,” Hannah Rees, executive director of Clean Up Alabama, said in a press release Wednesday. “Any city councilor who votes for the mayor’s proposed budget before the library issues are addressed simply enables the library to continue sexualizing the children of our community.”

Citing state obscenity law, the group has focused on the “pornographic” and “obscene” language, although only one of the 10 books challenged so far has any sexual content whatsoever and does not appear to meet the test for what could be considered obscene under state or federal law. 

There are 11 more books currently being reviewed by library staff as the group continues to challenge books. Those challenged titles have not yet been released, but the group appears to be trending toward challenging books in the young adult section of the library.

The group has been constantly appearing before the Prattville City Council and Autauga County Commission and has been consistent in warning officials that they should take action or face consequences at the ballot box. 

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“If a politician fails to stop a public library from grooming children then votes to give that library taxpayer dollars, he or she is complicit and will be held accountable by the people of this state,” Rees said in the release.

Meanwhile, other residents, particularly within the LGBTQ+ community, have urged officials not to honor the challenges.

This budget appears to be nothing more than business as usual for the city. Gillespie told library board officials earlier this month that the city could “find the money” to provide more shelving if needed to appropriately separate books meant for 16- to 18-year-olds from books meant for 12- to 15-year-olds. At this point, however, the library board has not publicly asked for shelving or announced a decision to create a whole new section in the library. Instead, the library board discussed updating the “teen” label already in use to mean “appropriate for readers 16-18” while the “tween” label would be used for books appropriate for children ages 12-15. 

The group has said at times that it is not seeking to defund the library, but at other times members have clearly called for a partial or complete defunding of the library, or a hold on funding until the library changes policies to meet the group’s demands.

But any reduction in local funding for the library could lead to a loss of state aid, which is Library Director Andrew Foster confirmed at the August board meeting is almost entirely responsible for purchasing new materials.

The state funding is controlled by the Alabama Public Library Service, which requires member libraries to be level-funded by the local government or risk losing some or all of its state funding, depending on how much the local funding is reduced.

The Legislature is funding libraries at $1.40 per capita this year, meaning Prattville would receive more than $53,000 in state aid if the city and county just maintain level funding. If the city and county were to reduce library funding by just $20,000 altogether, it would also reduce state aid by $20,000. If the city and county combined to reduce the library budget by $55,000, state aid would be completely wiped out for the year, and patrons could expect not to have new library books on the shelves during that period,

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Although the group’s concerns are hyper-focused in Prattville, the group is working to expand statewide, and has caught the attention of ALGOP Chairman John Wahl.

Wahl is also the District 5 board member overseeing the Alabama Public Library Service, and has joined the group in calling for the APLS to cut any ties to the American Library Association, which has become a target of conservatives across the nation after ALA President Emily Drabinski identified herself as a “Marxist lesbian” in a tweet celebrating her election.

Moms for Liberty, which he Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an extremist group, has also gotten involved in Madison County, hosting a Brave Books event at the Madison County Library featuring Christian television and movie star turned children’s-book author Kirk Cameron. The library temporarily canceled the event, citing a ballooning number of attendees that exceeded the library’s capacity, before ultimately allowing the event to occur with a strict 225person attendance.

Conservative media has suggested state librarian Nancy Pack, head of the APLS, was involved in the Madison library’s temporary cancellation of the event as well as the Millbrook Library turning the event away after she spoke at the Prattville library board meeting of calling the two libraries to inquire about the events.

Pack has denied asking either library to cancel the events.

The conservative group Eagle Forum has also joined in, with a representative speaking at the Prattville library board meeting, and one woman supposedly representing a group of moms in Foley has brought complaints there, saying what she found int he library was “sick and disgusting.” The books being challenged there are also mostly LGBTQ-related.

Three state representatives were in tow at the APLS board meeting, all freshmen— Rick Rehm, R-Dothan; Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, and Bill Lamb, R-Tuscaloosa— foreshadowing a potential push in the statehouse in the 2024 session.

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DuBose already has etched out a lane in the House on transgender bills, carrying the bills banning transgender women from competing in women’s collegiate sports and sponsoring a bill that died in the House that would define “women” in state law.

House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, has also applauded the efforts of the Prattville group and announced his intentions to bring legislation in the upcoming session.

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

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