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Huntsville library disputes APR’s evidence-based story on relocating LGBTQ books

Out of the 70 children’s titles challenged, only three did not include LGBTQ subject headings.

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After APR released a report Thursday morning about a directive for Huntsville-Madison County Public Library staff to relocate LGBTQ+ children’s books, the library administration released an official statement countering the story.

“While a news report states that we have been specifically targeting LGBTQ+ books, that is not true,” the library said in a statement Thursday. “While some groups have expressed concern about books dealing with this subject matter, the specific review related to ensuring that books containing sexually explicit content of any kind were located in an age-appropriate category.”

Evidence, however, says otherwise.

Huntsville librarian Alyx Kim-Yohn told APR that they were shown a spreadsheet of titles with the express directive to immediately move all 70 listed children’s books to the adult non-fiction. Kim-Yohn’s characterization of the request is backed up by some branches including the North Huntsville branch actually moving such materials—although they have now been moved back after the library chose to pause the relocation process. 

After the library put out the statement, APR checked to see just how many titles on the list include LGBTQ subject headings. Out of the 70 children’s titles challenged, only three did not include LGBTQ subject headings—but one of those books, Read Me a Story, Stella appears to have been included due to the author’s last name being “Gay.” Another book on the list, an Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel, appears to be an outlier, but it is in the same series as Legend of Korra, whose titular character is a bisexual woman in a lesbian relationship. 

If these two books were flagged mistakenly on an assumption of LGBTQ content, that makes 99 percent of the children’s books flagged for a perception of LGBTQ content—even without these two books it would be 96 percent.

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When expanding to the Young Adult titles, which brings the overall title count to more than 230 books, about 90 percent of the books contain LGBTQ content—210 out of 233 titles. The outliers all fall on Clean Up Alabama’s list of flagged books.

APR reached out to HMCPL Public Relations Director Jay Hixon Thursday for clarification of how the library’s statement could align with the evidence. APR had also reached out to library administration before publication but received no response. 

Hixon told APR that Executive Director Cindy Hewitt was out of office until Monday, and could arrange to answer questions at that time.

Kim-Yohn told APR that the HMCPL statement is simply untrue.

“(The statement) is clearly an attempt to backpedal on a discriminatory decision that had been made without any input from the staff or the community,” Kim-Yohn said. “The recataloging project as it was presented to me had two phases: one was to review young adult fiction for sexually explicit content as described in the press statement, but the other was to unilaterally move all children’s books without review and based on a subject headings list. I cannot emphasize enough that the staff had been told to complete this project under entirely false pretenses: the list we were given had been created using subject headings without any cross-referencing to any list of challenged titles from any organization, including APLS, and the reasoning behind this list has yet to be made clear to the staff or the public. In fact, the press release itself concedes that the list was presumptive.”

In another portion of the public statement from HMCPL, the library acknowledges the list was an attempt to get ahead of potential challenges.

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“Huntsville Madison County Public Library staff have been reviewing materials that could be included in the list of books of concern generated by the Alabama Public Library Service,” HMCPL administration said in the statement. “… We recently asked our staff to examine the collections at our ten branches to determine what books might need to be moved. We feel it is important that librarians, who are trained in collection development, should be the ones who make decisions about book placement. As library professionals, we are always willing to evaluate our collection in light of community concerns.”

Kim-Yohn said the use of “we” in the statement is misleading, as they say it was communicated that the directive came solely from Hewitt. They also emphasized again that the directive did not allow librarians to “examine” the children’s books for appropriateness, but rather directed them to move the books unilaterally.

And Kim-Yohn said the assertion that the re-cataloging project was about sexually explicit content instead of LGBTQ+ content is simply untrue.

“The subject heading list clearly demonstrates that a blanket search for several subject headings had been conducting and that the list had not been reviewed before dissemination,” Kim-Yohn said. “(APR’s Jacob Holmes) made that clear when he found Read Me a Story, Stella by Marie-Louise Gay, a picture book about a brother and sister spending the day together, on the list. The appearance of ‘Gay’ in the subject headings refers to the author, not the content … If this list was not generated using a presumptive subject heading search focused on LGBTQ+ content, then perhaps more transparency would have served to alleviate the alienation and dehumanization I—and surely others—felt upon seeing this list. As a queer, trans member of the community and library employee, I fail to see how this list could be construed as anything other than targeted at LGBTQ+ content under the harmful pretense of moderating ‘sexually explicit content.’”

The Madison County chapter of Read Freely Alabama also isn’t buying the statement from HMCPL administration.

“(Madison County Read Freely) possesses online catalog screenshots and a list, generated by the HMCPL library system (now made public), that contradicts the library’s statement and confirms the story’s veracity,” the group said in a statement Friday. 

The group calls on the library administration to clarify how materials were selected for inclusion on the list if the Alabama Public Library Service list is not yet available.

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“In addition to calling for clarification on the identified discrepancies, we call on the library leadership (the board and the executive director) to do the following:

  • Stop (not pause) the recataloging of these childrens and young adult materials in the library and move all materials back to their original locations in the library. 
  • Hold a public meeting to answer the questions of concerned citizens and to clear up these inconsistencies. 
  • Release the public documents that were requested by the Madison County Chapter of Read Freely Alabama so that the public can know the full extent of what occured in the HMCPL system. 
  • Be transparent with patrons about the review process the library is considering in response to this unprecedented move by the APLS board to distribute its list of “inappropriate” books. Allow for community feedback on that process. 

“The Madison County Chapter of Read Freely Alabama continues to stand against censorship of any kind within our public libraries,” the statement continues. “Moving materials out of the children’s and young adult sections of the library creates social, psychological, and physical barriers for our youngest readers and therefore is inherently an act of censorship.

“We want to be clear that HMCPL does not have to do anything with the APLS list when it is released. The APLS executive board has made it clear that this list will be for advisory purposes only and libraries have no obligation to use it in any way. Our library already has a system in place for the reconsideration of materials and we choose to trust our librarians, ‘who are trained in collection development’ as the library stated, to do this part of their job as they have always done.”

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

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