At the Ozark-Dale County Public Library Board, a member can currently only be removed if the other four members vote in favor of expunging that individual. How library board members can be removed varies across the state.
A bill pre-filed by State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Decatur, seeks to change that—allowing city councils and county commissions to remove library board members at will.
The amendment of current state code is pretty straightforward. It sets out that library board members serve at the pleasure of their appointing authorities and that members can be removed by a majority vote of said authority.
Elizabeth Delaney, chair of the Ozark-Dale library board, told APR Tuesday that the legislation erases a layer of political insulation for public libraries.
“They should just appoint themselves—there’s no need for boards if we have no decision-making powers,” Delaney said.
Delaney voiced concern that the change would chill library board member’s ability to do what they fee is in the best interest of the library for fear of running afoul of the local governing body.
Elliott did not respond to a message left by APR for comment on this story.
However, this is not the first bill Elliott has pre-filed that would give more political control over a board. Elliott has also proposed giving state officials and lawmakers direct control over the board for the Alabama Department of Archives and History in response to a spat between the department and some lawmakers after a lunchtime program on LGBTQ history in the state,
It stands to reason that this bill is in response to the spate of book challenges in public libraries across the state claiming librarians are providing children with inappropriate, and even pornographic, content.
The group Clean Up Alabama has gone so far as to label librarians and library board members as “groomers” and groups have complained to the Alabama Public Library Service that library boards have failed to respond to their challenges.
The Ozark-Dale library board has been one such board facing challenges, with the biggest coming not from citizens, but from Mayor Mark Blankenship. Blankenship threatened to defund the library if it did not move LGBTQ books out of the young adult section.
Delaney said that the local governments have also begun ignoring the library’s recommendations for new library board candidates despite that being the typical process in years past.
The Autauga County Commission also notably made an appointment without a nomination from the board, sparking the four remaining board members to resign en masse.
Another change made in the bill would remove language that staggers the initial appointments when a library board is formed, meaning all appointments would be appointed at once every four years. It is unclear whether that change would affect the staggered terms of currently established library boards.
This is the first bill filed in apparent response to the ongoing debate over libraries, but could just be the beginning as several lawmakers have expressed concern as well as Gov. Kay Ivey.