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Despite criticisms, libraries have followed proper protocol in response to book challenges

In Prattville and beyond, library staff and board members have been largely following proper protocol to deal with challenges. 

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Six of seven members have resigned from the Autauga-Prattville Public Library board over the past six months, with half of those resignations coming Monday in response to the Autauga County Commission’s decision to appoint a new board member without waiting for a nomination from the library board.

That’s the county’s prerogative — county and municipal governments are not bound by any law to accept nominations from the board and are given the authority and responsibility to make appointments.

However, the move broke away from longstanding precedent at a time when the board has come under heavy criticism from some citizens for how they have handled challenges to certain LGBTQ and sexually explicit materials in the children’s and young adult sections.

The Prattville library isn’t the only one to come under attack as the campaign against libraries has cropped up across the state. 

Hannah Rees, executive director of Clean Up Alabama, told the Alabama Public Library Service at its most recent meeting that she would prefer things be handled at the local level, but lamented that local officials simply wouldn’t deal with the issue.

A narrative exists that library boards are simply not responding to the concerns of citizens, and Clean Up has stated numerous times that the “reconsideration of materials” forms at the Prattville library and others are there merely to placate upset citizens and not actually lead to results.

But in Prattville and beyond, library staff and board members have been largely following proper protocol to deal with challenges. 

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The Prattville library board has had 48 official book challenges since the process began, and the board has so far dealt with 20 of those challenges. The board has not moved any books out of the children or young adult sections except for one: “Red Hood” by Elena K. Arnold, a book aimed at high school students about the sexual victimization of women that goes into graphic details.

It is the only book that includes sexually graphic content that has been fully reviewed by the board. The other books left in place by the board deal largely with “gender ideology,” but not sexually explicit content.

But some of the challenged books have already been moved out of the young adult section despite awaiting a library board review. After the library created a new “New Adult” section at the library aimed at readers between the ages of 18 and 25, 11 challenged books authored by Sarah J. Maas were moved from Young Adult to New Adult. 

These are among the most sexually explicit books that were challenged by Clean Up Alabama at the Prattville library, and there has been discussion nationally about whether the books were ever intended for a young adult audience or if they were mistakenly categorized by publishers.

With those 12 books moved, the Prattville library has moved 25 percent of the challenged books, with 17 other books still in line to get a full review and recommendation from the board.

These processes take time, library officials have said, because a committee of three must fully read the books before meeting and making a recommendation. Some of the books have not yet been reviewed because they have not yet been returned to the library since being challenged, And with the resignation of three board members who were reviewing some of the remaining books, that process will have to start from scratch.

In Ozark, Mayor Mark Blankenship threatened to rip funding away from the library if it didn’t move LGBTQ books en masse out of the young adult section instead of allowing the board to follow a similar procedure. Dale County Commissioner Adam Enfinger ultimately submitted the only two challenges the library has received, despite some residents making an uproar over the content in a heated board meeting. 

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One of those books, “The Mirror Season” by Anna-Marie McLemore, has completed the review process and will stay where it is, with board members simply deciding to apply a clearer trigger warning in the very front of the book to warn readers of one graphic depiction of a sexual assault. It is aimed at readers ages 13 to 18.

Some other libraries across the state have had an outcry about content in sections aimed at minors, but haven’t dealt with formal book challenges. 

From Prattville to Fairhope, elected officials have largely told the public that the cataloging of content is up to the library board. But appointing new board members that share the vision of book challengers is a way for local governments to influence collection policies without micromanaging content decisions directly.

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

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