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Prattville library will require children under 16 to be accompanied by parent/guardian

The board said this is in response to parents’ request for more parental control of what their children read.

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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The Autauga-Prattville Public Library board voted unanimously Thursday morning to raise the age of minors that must be accompanied by parents from 12 to 15 years old.

The change comes days after the Prattville City Council voted down a historic contract that would have included effectively eliminating the young adult section.

Up to Thursday, the library has required minors 12 and under to be directly accompanied by parents or an adult guardian. Now that age will be raised to 15.

“I take this very serious because we’ve been beat up so bad,” said vice chair Wayne Lambert, who made the motion. “That’s what the public wants; let’s mandate that.”

Nothing prior to the vote prevented parents or guardians from attending the library with their children, and parents are still free to attend and directly supervise their 16- to 18-year-old children.

“Right now, a 13-year-old can roam over to the adult section,” Lambert said. “That’s what some people don’t understand. Right now if you’re 13 and above, you can go anywhere in the library you want. If we put this in place, the parent has to be there to make sure they don’t go over into that section.”

Lambert said the new policy will be an “inconvenience” for parents who don’t mind their 13+ kids being unaccompanied in the library, but said this policy is something that would “make community leaders happy.”

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“That’s what they want, let’s give it to them,” Lambert said.

The implementation is already underway and is set to be fully in place by Sept. 15. 

Things like signing must be updated to give parents fair warning about the new policy.

Steve Burton, the longest-serving member of the board, said that this should quell the “negative atmosphere we have out there.”

“We are level-funded this year in a year of inflation,” Burton said. “We’re being considered for a portion of a sales tax, but that has not taken place. We’re being considered for a bigger library, and that is in the process, I think. We are being stretched to the end of what we can do budget-wise.”

The policy makes a special provision for members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board, although library director Andrew Foster said he believes all current members are 16 or older and thus would be unaffected by the new policy. But board member Tommy Gamper said it is important to carve out an exception for TAB members given how active they are and how burdensome it would be to have a parent constantly present for their activities.

“I’d rather it be overkill than under,” Lambert said. “The public is asking for more control. But it has always fallen back on the parent.”

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Foster said the library has no desire to babysit minors and lacks the staffing to provide anything more than the basic services expected of a librarian.

“I think it’s going to help alleviate the (library situation),” said Mayor Bill Gillespie. “I think this will also how that they are taking their roles very serious. I think this will go a long ways. I know it’s going to be going to other levels of government and everything else, but libraries are very, very important.”

Next steps

The next level of government that the debate is headed to is the Alabama Public Library Service, where ALGOP chair John Wahl serves as a board member and members of Clean Up Alabama, which began in Prattville, spoke to the board last month.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday that she has sent a letter to APLS director Nancy Pack expressing concern about potentially sexually inappropriate books in libraries and how the APLS encourages or enforces parental supervision and involvement.

Pack’s response included that most libraries require parental supervision of minors up to a certain age.

Wahl announced Thursday his intent to file a motion at the upcoming APLS meeting so that parents could submit material they find to unsuitable for children, with those findings being made available across the state.

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“I believe it is critical that we address the concerns of parents across the State of Alabama, and provide our local libraries with some guidance on what books may contain inappropriate content for children,” Wahl said in a release. “As a board member of the APLS, it’s important for me that we represent the values of the people of Alabama, and protect our children from sexually inappropriate content and woke policies … I strongly believe that we should let children be children again, and stop pushing a social agenda on them.”

Prattville City Councilman Blair Gornto, one of three Prattville councilors who voted in favor of a contract for services Tuesday that would have eliminated the young adult section of the library, praised the library board’s decision as a baby step toward greater restriction of materials.

“Today, a small step in the right direction was taken as the Autauga-Prattville Public Library board voted to amend their unattended age policy for children from age 12 to age 15,” Gornto said in a release on his reelection campaign Facebook page. “I firmly believe that the pressure placed on the leadership of the library by the public and certain officials throughout our city, county, and state regarding free access to sexually explicit material to younger patrons of the library, including but not limited to countless emails, phone calls, and involvement at the state level, has led to this development.”

Gornto also thanked councilors Tommy Merrick and John Chambers, the other two who voted for the contract.

“It’s easier to duck your head in the sand and cave to those who choose to vilify, name-call, slander, insult, and degrade others because of their belief system,” Gornto said. “I recognize it will take more than this for our library to fully earn back the trust of the citizens who continue to feel let down and troubled by the failure of some in leadership to address this issue further, but after all, how else do you eat an elephant but one bite at a time?”

Multiple council members have mentioned threats related to this issue—Chambers said Tuesday he had someone show up unexpectedly at his home, Robert Strichik said during last week’s meeting discussing the contract that he had been physically threatened by a former councilmember. That former councilmember is Tony Moore, a supporter of Clean Up Alabama. Moore confirmed to APR that he is the former councilmember Strichik referenced, but said it was Strichik who threatened him.

Gornto complained Tuesday during the meeting that citizen Adam Hunt, a gay man opposed to the contract, had crossed the lines of the council’s rules prohibiting boisterous behavior and personal attacks. 

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“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Boone responded, after noting that public servants have a different threshold due to their positions.

Public comment

In the public comment portion of the meeting, several citizens that had been opposed to the contract for services thanked the library board for their service in a difficult atmosphere.

Caryl Lawson, asked the board to continue standing strong as there is a continued push to make changes to the library.

“They have plans to push for legislation to jail librarians like Andrew Foster,” Lawson said, referencing APR’s report detailing state legislative goals laid out in a Clean Up Alabama email. “Not without a fight. We are fighting for the very heart of our democracy right now.”

Sarah Sanchez of Clean Up Alabama told the board that they will continue to ask for a “simple boundary of some sort,” while also suggesting it is important to “take a step back.”

“Things can escalate very quickly when you play upon people’s fears and emotions,” Sanchez said.

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Sanchez also stated that the reconsideration forms the library has been working through are not really designed to consider patrons’ concerns, but to give a sense that patrons have a voice in the process.

“They’re there as a pat on the back, ‘we heard your concerns;’ nothing is usually done,” Sanchez said. “They provide a process to allay people’s feelings.”

Although the library board has found that the 10 challenges that have reached them so far don’t warrant moving of the books, the library has already moved about 25 percent of the challenged books—the most sexually explicit of the challenged content— to a new “New Adult” section for ages 18-25. The books remain under review, but the library has already moved them out of young adult and into adult, citing they meet the criteria for the newly established section.

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

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