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Analysis | A brief examination of defunding libraries in Alabama

This isn’t just about the present political milieu; the history of book banning is vast.


Public libraries, a mainstay of knowledge and community gathering, have found themselves at the epicenter of a political storm in Alabama. At the heart of the dispute is a push by certain far-right factions, bolstered by a subset of Republican lawmakers, to defund these institutions.

The primary grievance is the availability of literature that delves into topics of race, racism, gender identity, and sexuality.

Interestingly, this conflict seems to have a geographical divide. Larger cities like Huntsville and Madison vehemently oppose these initiatives, while smaller towns and rural areas seem more susceptible to such pressures. Notably, cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa remain relatively unaffected.

The most potent threat to libraries stems from legislative proposals that could deny statewide public funding unless they kowtow to the demands of these far-right groups. Yet, even in supportive regions, there is resistance. A case in point is Ozark’s mayor, Mark Blankenship, who faced censure for his staunch stance on defunding the local library.

Key players like State Sen. Arthur Orr are pivotal in this unfolding narrative. Orr, has made baseless allegations that libraries were providing pornography to minors. His role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation, combined with his control over a private slush fund, gives him substantial leverage over library funding. It’s also worth noting the role of certain religious leaders, who fear that these books might challenge their doctrines or be seen as morally corrupting.

This tension around book censorship isn’t novel. History is littered with instances of groups, from anxious parents to full-blown organizations, protesting against various books.

The American Library Association is a prime target in this debate, even though it has long championed the role of libraries in student development, even when faced with challenges to their collections.

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The debate’s reach extends beyond public discourse. Legal battles over book accessibility, as underscored in a 2019 piece on “The First Amendment and Censorship,” bear testimony to this.

Alabama’s current situation is merely a chapter in an ongoing narrative. The resistance to library collections, especially those documenting LGBTQ+ experiences, is symptomatic of a deeper cultural clash.

Notable figures like ALGOP Chairman John Wahl hint at future legislative strategies, while far-right groups like Clean Up Alabama aim to recalibrate the state’s obscenity laws, potentially altering library collections profoundly.

Should direct censorship efforts fail, the secondary strategy appears to be financially strangling these institutions, a tactic highlighted by media entities like Vox.

Kasey Meehan of PEN America labels this strategy the “ed scare.” It’s a holistic attempt to control public dialogue, which encompasses not only library defunding but also book bans and educational gag orders.

However, this isn’t just about the present political milieu; the history of book banning is vast. Driven by diverse motivations, be it politics, religious beliefs, or concerns about young readers, it’s a manifestation of the eternal tussle between information freedom and the desire for control.

As Alabama grapples with these issues, it’s clear that the essence of this contention goes beyond mere books. It is, in essence, a battle over the narrative that will shape the minds of the next generation.

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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