Conservative book ban push fuels library exodus from national association that stands up for books
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - After parents in a rural and staunchly conservative Wyoming county joined nationwide pressure on librarians to pull books they considered harmful to youngsters, the local library board obliged with new policies making such books a higher priority for removal — and keeping out of collections.
But that’s not all the library board has done.
Campbell County also withdrew from the American Library Association, in what’s become a movement against the professional organization that has fought against book bans.
This summer, the state libraries in Montana, Missouri and Texas and the local library in Midland, Texas, announced they’re leaving the ALA, with possibly more to come. Right-wing lawmakers in at least nine other states — Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming — demand similar action.
Part of the reason is the association’s defense of disputed books, many of which have LGBTQ+ and racial themes. A tweet by ALA President Emily Drabinski last year in which she called herself a “Marxist lesbian” also has drawn criticism and led to the Montana and Texas state library departures.
“This is the problem with the American Library Association, it has changed from an organization that helped communities and used common sense into one that just promotes a view,” said Dan Kleinman, a blogger and longtime ALA critic.
Widely disputed books over the past couple years include Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay,” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” the ALA points out.
In northeastern Wyoming’s Campbell County, a coal-mining area where former President Donald Trump got 87% of the vote in 2020, library board meetings have been packed and often heated for over two years now.
After a local outcry over a drag queen story hour and an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute library officials over books in the library’s children’s section, a library board with several new members appointed by the County Commission withdrew from the ALA last year.
“We were the first library in nation to do this. And now it has progressed to something to something I couldn’t even have imagined,” library board member Charles Butler said. “And all we were ever worried about was the sexualization of children.”
The nonprofit American Library Association denies having a political agenda, saying it has always been nonpartisan.
“This effort to change what libraries are, or even just take libraries away from communities, I think, is part of a larger effort to diminish the public good, to take away those information resources from individuals and really limit their opportunity to have the kinds of resources that a community hub, like a public library, provides,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
The ALA won’t say how many libraries are members of the group but denied any “mass exodus.”
The troubles come as individual membership in the ALA is down 14% since 2018 to about 49,700, the lowest since 1989, according to figures on the organization’s website. The ALA attributes the decline to suspended library conferences during the pandemic.
While librarians pride themselves about being open to different perspectives and providing access to different kinds of materials, political leaders telling them to part with the ALA runs against that, said Washington University in St. Louis law professor Gregory Magarian.
Magarian has been following Missouri’s departure from the ALA amid a debate over who may take part in local library “story hours” and new state rules that seek to limit youth access to certain books deemed inappropriate for their age.
“When you see state governments kind of replacing that type of control by librarians with greater control by politically motivated, politically ambitious, politically polarized government officials, I think that’s really troubling for the prospects for free access to ideas,” Magarian said.
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