The director of the Alabama Public Library Service told Gov. Kay Ivey in a letter that parents are primarily responsible for determining what library books are appropriate for their children.
Alabama Public Library Service Director Nancy Pack wrote a letter to Ivey on Sept. 12 responding to the governor’s questions to her in a Sept. 1 letter about children’s access to what some consider age-inappropriate books and about the APLS affiliation with the American Library Association.
Over the summer, some parents and groups objected to certain books, triggering calls by Republican lawmakers and the chair of the state GOP for Alabama to drop its membership with the American Library Association, whose president has described herself as a Marxist.
In Ivey’s Sept. 1 letter to Pack, the governor said she shared the concerns of parents about certain books available in the children’s section of libraries, including several about gender identity.
Ivey asked Pack what the APLS is doing to ensure that libraries provide a means for parents to supervise their children before they encounter age-inappropriate books.
Pack wrote that the APLS has not received any specific requests from libraries seeking guidance on helping parents supervise their children’s access to age-inappropriate books. She said the APLS encourages libraries to involve their communities in setting policies.
“It’s essential to recognize that the responsibility for determining the suitability of library materials for children lies primarily with parents or guardians,” Pack wrote. “Children constitute a diverse demographic with varying abilities, talents, and needs, influenced by factors such as age, cultural background, sociological context, and economic circumstances. Consequently, it is crucial to account for this diversity when planning library services.
“The Alabama Public Library Service actively encourages libraries to engage their communities in the policy-making process. This collaborative approach helps libraries better align their services with the unique requirements and preferences of their local populations, fostering a more inclusive and responsive environment for families and children seeking appropriate materials and resources.”
Ivey took questions from reporters Tuesday after speaking to the Montgomery Kiwanis Club. She was asked about the responses she received from Pack.
“We’re poring over that response as we speak,” Ivey said. “We just got it recently. And we will certainly make some recommendations.
“But right now our goal is for the children to certainly have the opportunity to visit libraries and read. At the same time, we want them and their families to feel safe while they’re in the library and read books that are appropriate for them.
“So it’s a work in progress and we’ll certainly continue to delve into the responses the library association gave us and continue to work on that.”
Ivey’s Sept. 1 letter listed several books about gender identity as examples of those that caused concern, including “Who are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity,” and “If You’re a Kid Like Gavin,” a book about gender transition.
“As several parents have eloquently put it, their concern is not about removing these books,” Ivey wrote. “The concern is about ensuring that these books are placed in an appropriate location.”
Ivey noted in her letter to Pack that local libraries submit certain policies to the APLS to qualify for supplemental state aid. The governor asked to what extent those policies facilitate supervision over children’s browsing.
Pack responded that the APLS collects and retains policies for more than 220 libraries, policies set by the boards of those libraries. Pack said the APLS does not approve or disapprove of the policies.
The APLS compiled findings from a review of those policies and included those in an attachment to Pack’s letter to the governor. Pack wrote that the findings were not definitive because libraries frequently update their policies.
In the governor’s letter, she asked Pack about the extent of American Library Association influence on Alabama library policies. The governor asked about the association’s American Library Bill of Rights, which says all people, regardless of age, have a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use.
Pack wrote that the APLS adopted the 1996 version of the American Library Bill of Rights, but that it does not include the article that confidentiality of library use applies to all ages because that conflicts with an Alabama law that says parents have access to information about the books their children check out. Pack wrote that the APLS notifies local libraries of that provision in state law.
Pack attached to her letter a report she compiled that said withdrawing from the American Library Association would be a disservice to Alabama libraries and the communities they serve. The report, “Should the Alabama Public Library Service Sever Ties With The American Library Association? A Critical Analysis,” was compiled at the request of the APLS executive board. (You can see the report at the end of this article.)
The report, prepared August 30, said cutting ties with the American Library Association would reduce funding opportunities, professional development, and help with national issues such as e-book licensing and digital access available to Alabama libraries.
Cutting ties would isolate Alabama libraries from national initiatives such as literacy campaigns, deprive the state of the help with the challenges of rapid technological advancement, and hurt collaboration with other libraries, Pack wrote in the report.
“In summary, disassociating from the American Library Association could lead to a variety of negative repercussions that affect both library professionals and the communities they serve,” Pack wrote. “In conclusion, instead of disengaging, let’s work together to ensure that our libraries remain places of intellectual freedom, balanced curation, and access to diverse perspectives. Constructive dialogue and collaboration are essential in upholding the values of democracy and empowering our citizens to make informed decisions.”
Ivey asked Pack how much the APLS had paid the American Library Association over the last five years. Pack wrote that the total was $38,011, which included annual membership fees and fees for conferences, workshops, and other services.