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Four Prattville library employees fired after closing library to stand with fired director

“We will not stand for this,” one library associate said.

Terminated APPL employees Lacie Sutherland (left) and Tatyana Nelsen (right) share a tearful embrace after being fired for refusing to open the library following the termination of Director Andrew Foster. (Caryl Lawson/Submitted)
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The Autauga-Prattville Public Library board of trustees fired Library Director Andrew Foster on Thursday for being too transparent with the press.

The four present board members — Chairman Ray Boles, Vice Chair Rachel Daniels, and city appointees Quincy Minor and Gloria Kuykendall — all voted in favor of terminating Foster’s employment as director after spending about 20 minutes in executive session. Board members Logan Strock and Doug Darr were not present.

Daniels made the motion to terminate Foster “for revealing confidential information to the press and violation of criminal law.”

Meanwhile, the board members and attorney Laura Clark chose to be as opaque as possible.

APR asked Clark whether she could clarify what criminal law Foster supposedly violated.

“I could, but I’m not going to,” Clark replied.

And following the vote to terminate Foster, Boles told press that he had a written statement and that no other board members would be speaking to press. APR asked Minor and Kuykendall whether they’d like to speak anyway despite that edict, but they declined.

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The written statement mirrored the verbal statement made by Daniels during the meeting. The short typed statement states that Foster was being terminated for “revealing confidential information to the press.” In pen, an arrow adds “and violation of criminal law.”

Foster clarified to press after the meeting that the board is referring to emails shared with Alabama Political Reporter.

APR published the contents of emails Monday primarily between Boles and Foster regarding new library policies and the relocation or removal of books, and also received one email thread including Clark’s advice on whether the board needed to take a vote to exercise discretion over the collections.

While board members have said they merely want to relocate books currently in the young adult section to the adult section, the email from Clark advised Foster on “weeding” the materials, or completely removing them from the collection.

Foster told press that he isn’t ashamed of anything he said or did.

“Sharing has been my policy from the very beginning of starting this position in July,” Foster said.

Foster said nobody ever warned him not to share the information. The only advice he said he got from city and county attorneys was that he didn’t necessarily have to share as much information as he had been, but did not bar him from sharing information.

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Foster said there has been a lack of communication from the board, including the board not telling Foster what the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was beforehand. He also shared concerns that the board continues to act without any public discussion.

“We went back (into executive session) and immediately I was told I was being fired and given the option to resign,” Foster said. “That was not a decision made, the vote was done. A number of decisions seemed to be made beforehand.”

Angie Hayden, a cofounder of Read Freely Alabama, told the press that the new board has created an oppressive environment at the library, and suggested that Foster’s termination is retaliation for pushing back against new polices that seek to prohibit LGBTQ content in the children and young adult sections.

“Mr. Foster and his staff deserve praise for dedication in the face of these policies that were forced upon them and for their professionalism as both their character and their professionalism have been under attack,” Hayden said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to what appears to clearly be retaliation and so we are asking for the reinstatement of Andrew Foster and for city and county attorneys to investigate the events that have brought us to this moment.”

Matthew Layne, president of the Alabama Library Association, said “any librarian worth their salt would be aghast at these new policies.”

“They are not representative and so vaguely written that pretty much any book on the shelves of the Prattville library children’s section could go against the policy that they’ve written,” Layne said. “Their library director responding to a FOIA request is not criminal activity. I think we’re dealing with people that don’t really have a firm grasp on legality, literacy and I don’t know if any of them have any background in education or librarianship. From what I’ve seen, that seems pretty doubtful.”

Library staff closes doors, fired for refusing to work

Back at the Prattville library, press arrived to find the doors locked. A member of the library staff allowed APR to enter, explaining that the library had closed early in response to the decision.

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The scene there was chaotic as employees reacted to the news and tried to understand what to do next.

They also told APR about a scene that had just transpired: Foster had come to the library after the meeting while it was still open. Boles arrived and ordered him to get out, stating that he had not only been terminated, but completely banned from the library.

When staff asked why Foster was banned from the library, Boles said something along the lines of “he was affecting the morale of the library,” according to multiple staff.

“Uplifting the morale of the library,” quipped Tatyana Nelsen, circulation administrator.

As the staff inside contemplated their actions, library associate Adrienne Barringer addressed the press outside.

“He has fought so hard for libraries to be libraries, for people to have access to information and for parents to parent their own children,” said Barringer, choking back tears. “We will not stand for this.”

Word apparently got out quickly, and Boles showed back up at the library along with Daniels. Boles and Daniels walked in while APR was still speaking with employees in the main library area.

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A visibly angry Boles ordered APR to exit the building, stating that this was a staff-only meeting and that they didn’t need “fake reporters” there. 

While APR stood outside the building, word came that four employees inside had just been terminated for refusing to reopen the doors—and those were just the employees who were present and refused to comply. Other employees had already left the premises before Boles entered.

Nelsen and Barringer were two of the fired employees. The other two employees are Lacie Sutherland, a cataloging and acquisitions librarian, and Luke Rollins, a library associate.

It’s unclear at the time of publication just how many other employees might end up being terminated or resigning. Every member of library staff present at the facility signaled support for Foster, and were generally distraught at his firing.

Foster told’s Howard Koplowitz he did not expect the staff to react as they did.

“I don’t know where things are going to go, where things are going to sit,” Foster said. “This is something. I truly didn’t know, didn’t expect the staff would stand in solidarity with me like they did. But this decision shows the situation as it is.”

Foster said he has hired an attorney as he weighs his options, but said he will take time to rest and decompress first.

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Prattville resident Abby McGinn has created a gofundme to help the fired library staff with bills in the interim. Donate here.

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

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