The shock and surprise need to end. For over three years, anti-book ban activists have warned that what was happened piecemeal in schools and libraries across the country–one book ban here, 100 book bans there–would take on a different shape and target entire demographics. The time has been here, but this week, it’s now been ruled essential work by one public library board in Alabama.
The Autauga-Prattville Library has been subject to book banning and oversight battles now for months. Early last year, a single patron targeted one LGBTQ+ children’s title, The Pronoun Book, which quickly escalated into a group of “concerned parents” targeting dozens more titles written for young readers. The group, “Clean Up Prattville” follows the same guiding principals as the group “Clean Up Samuels,” which almost closed down the Samuels Public Library in Virginia.
By fall, the Autauga-Prattville library board changed its policies on unattended children in the library; now, no one under 15 would be allowed to even be in the library by themselves in order to solve the potential–and fictitious–problem of obscene books landing in the hands of young people. Prior to that policy, children 12 and older could use the library without a parent or guardian. But now, the board has ruled that no more materials featuring LGBTQ+ characters may be purchased for any of the collections serving people 17 years old and younger. Purchases of material with “sexual content” for that group is also against the new rules.
The new library policy guide is 53 pages long. It passed during the Thursday, February 8, 2024, board meeting–without the approval of the library’s director, Andrew Foster. Regardless, the board included in the policy that it was created with input and approval by Foster. The passage of the policy led to board member Christie Sellers immediately resigning, noting that the board was meeting in secret to create this policy. That was the fifth board member to leave in under a year.
Among the updated policies are the following:
- Children under the age of 18 shall receive library cards that are especially designated for minors. These cards will not permit the checkout of material with content containing, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance. Age-appropriate materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
- The library shall not purchase or otherwise acquire any material advertised for consumers ages 17 and under which contain content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance. Age-appropriate materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
- Library staff shall affix a red warning label prominently on the binding of any book or other material in the library’s collection containing content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance and advertised for consumers 18 and older. Materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
- The Library Board of Trustees reserves the right to exercise discretion over all library material, including but not limited to books, movies, artwork, displays, and programming.
- Removes the requirement that patrons read an entire work before lodging a formal challenge.
It is, of course, purposeful that none of the above terms are defined. This puts the onus on library workers to determine what the board means by “obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance.” That the board then gives themselves the power to determine whether or not materials are purchased or weeded from the collection is only furthering their vision of what is and is not permissible to the community’s library.
Library workers are not only responsible for interpreting the meaning behind these policies. They’re now turned into censors themselves via the policy which makes them red label any and all materials across the collection which might contain those topics. That the exceptions include religious materials leaves no doubt at what the goal and message behind this is.
This is blatant discrimination encoded into the policy and procedures documentation for a public library and implemented without approval or input from the library’s leadership. Further, that this led to yet another resignation from a board member puts the library in more danger.
“As a board member, it is disconcerting to witness actions that contribute to the marginalization of any community within our constituency. We must serve the entire community without bias, and I find it unconscionable to be associated with a board that engages in such discriminatory practices. I cannot align myself, even with a dissenting vote, with the pervasive ideologies that are evidenced by the subcommittee’s recommendations,” said Sellers to AL.com.
If good board members who look out for the whole of the community and not just the loudest and most domineering members–those who have a vested interest in destroying the institute of its democratic and civic duties–the library will only be finding itself in more danger. This sends a particularly chilling message not only in this institution, but should serve as a wake up call to all public libraries in Alabama and beyond.
Autauga-Prattville public library has three facilities and owns over 80,000 items. Read Freely Alabama has been active in supporting the library and has become a vocal about the attacks on this institution.
The state of Alabama has become one of the most notorious for its attacks on public libraries over the last six months. This is in big part thanks to what’s happening at Autauga-Prattville. Governor Kay Ivey has proposed and implemented new rules that tie library funding to institutional policies that discriminate against works like those being targeted here. Ivey went so far as to fire a member of the Alabama Public Library Service board for raising concerns with these new policies.
Alabama also ended its membership with the American Library Association. The state is eager to undermine the professionalism, the education, and experience of its trained library workers in service of not just banning books but in erasing entire groups of people.
It won’t stop here.