It was unsurprising to learn this week that Alabama's state agency for public libraries has recommended severing ties with ALA, given the right wing political attack aimed at the association and Gov. Kay Ivey's recent demand for action. But in a head-snapping turn of events that hints at the depth of the political pressure state library leaders are facing, Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) director Nancy C. Pack has not only turned away from the ALA (after previously defending ALA in a September letter) but apparently from the ALA's Library Bill of Rights as well.
AL.com reports that, in an October 12 memo, Pack recommended that the APLS board “strongly consider discontinuing the application of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights as our guiding principle," and "place a much greater emphasis on addressing community needs.” Matthew Layne, president of the Alabama Library Association, told AL.Com that he "vehemently disagrees" with Pack's recommendations. "We as Alabamians should in no way capitulate to a vocal minority of individuals who wish to control what our citizens choose to read for themselves and for their families,” Layne told reporters. Pack's recommendations also include "finalizing a parent's list of potentially inappropriate book titles to serve as a valuable resource for public libraries." The recommendations will be voted on by the APLS Board later this month.
The ALA's Library Bill of Rights was first adopted in 1939 to counter “growing intolerance, suppression of free speech and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals.” It has remained core to the work of libraries ever since.
CBS42 reports that Pack has also recommended that ALA look to "impeach" current president Emily Drabinksi, whose one year term expires next June. For the record, the word "impeach" does not appear in the ALA bylaws, and the ALA president has no real governing role. And it's hard to believe that Pack—whose APLS bio prominently states that she is an ALA "life member" who was "elected to serve on the ALA Council" and whose "leadership at the national level" includes serving on various ALA committees— would seriously suggest that librarians expel a duly-elected ALA president (and an excellent librarian) from office over an old, personal, and since-deleted tweet. Furthermore, what exactly is the point of recommending an action to an organization you're quitting?
The Alabama Political Reporter has a report on the fallout of Pack's recommendations, including a statement from freedom to read advocacy group Read Freely Alabama. "While Read Freely Alabama (RFA) understands APLS Director Nancy Pack’s concession was driven by a threat to state library funding, and we empathize with Dr. Pack’s position, we cannot support her decisions,” the RFA said in a statement. “Throughout this controversy, we have witnessed many Alabama public library directors stand firm in their professional ethics, often in the face of threats to library funding, to defend their libraries, employees, and community members. Unfortunately, Dr. Pack did the exact opposite.”
In comments to the Alabama Daily News, an APLS spokesperson confirmed that Pack's recommendations were indeed made under political pressure. “It’s not a decision that we really wanted to make, but we felt like it was the best decision that we could make to help retain state funding,” Ryan Godfrey, an APLS spokesperson, told the outlet, noting that one state senator "said in no uncertain terms" that if the APLS stayed with ALA they would be defunded. "We read the tea leaves there, so to speak. We’re just trying to do what we can to help retain funding for the library,” Godfrey added.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Politico reports that (no surprise here) the state has also moved to sever ties with ALA. "The move by the DeSantis administration puts Florida in line with a cadre of Republican states and lawmakers leveling scrutiny on ALA, labeling the group as “toxic” and a “conduit” for exposing children to pornography—claims refuted by the organization and its supporters."
The Arkansas Times has a Q&A with former Saline County Library Director Patty Hector, who was recently fired after she refused to remove or re-shelf three books deemed inappropriate by a local quorum court. Hector said she would not do anything differently. "A group of people started going to the quorum court to complain about books they purposefully came in to find. They were not library patrons who happened to find a book they didn’t like. They had lists. They never spoke to the staff or turned in a Request for Reconsideration form. We haven’t had anyone challenge a book in at least 10 years before this happened," she told the Times. "I think the pendulum will swing back," she added. "I don’t think these uber conservatives have as much support for their fringe ideas as they think."
In Ohio, the local Ashland Source reports on an effort by a new PAC to partially defund the library over allegedly "pornographic" materials. "A number of Ashland County residents received a flier in the mail this week advocating for a no vote on the library levy. 'It’s time to inform the library that the voices of concerned citizens who feel strongly about protecting childhood innocence and local accountability matter. Vote no on Nov. 7,' the flier stated," the paper reports. "The reason the PAC is advocating against the levy, according to the flier, was the library’s decision to keep three books in the juvenile nonfiction section following a series of library board meetings in 2022. The books, according to previous Ashland Source reporting, mainly centered on puberty."
Late last week the The Louisiana Illuminator reported some good news: The St. Tammany Library Board of Control voted 5-0 to rescind a controversial policy that had segregated over 150 challenged titles. "The policy was adopted in December amid pressure from the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, a small but vocal group of conservative activists responsible for the vast majority of the challenges," the article reports. “'Simply put, one person controlled what 270,000 people got access to on our shelves,' board member Bill McHugh said prior to the vote." Going forward, "challenged materials will remain shelved as usual pending review."
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads her weekly censorship roundup by diving back into the recent survey done with EveryLibrary, this week looking at how familiar parents are with library collection development policies and practices. "It appears that knowledge of how librarians select material plays some kind of role in how parents perceive the content of books," Jensen observes. "The question becomes this: how do we get these people interested in knowing how their tax money is used to curate their local library and why it is crucial to offer a broad range of children’s materials across a myriad of topics?"
In Tennessee, the Nashville Scene reports that the Nashville Public Library is considering elevating interim director Terri Luke to the permanent position. "The process over the past year included a search firm, which presented the board with four finalists who participated in public interviews Monday and Tuesday. At the end of the meeting Tuesday, most board members said as they listened to the candidates and tried to weigh their strengths they began to compare the candidates to the interim director," the report notes. As one board member put it, "Terri’s got to be sort of in the mix because we know what a good job she’s done.”
The Cornell Chronicle highlights a recent paper by researchers that found digitizing books boosts print sales. "Digitization can boost sales of physical books by up to 8% by stimulating demand through online discovery. The increase in sales was found to be stronger for less popular books and even spilled over to a digitized author’s non-digitized works." The research was part of an analysis of Google Books, Google's massive book digitization project launched in 2004, which publishers and authors unsuccessfully sued to stop. The paper, “Digitization and the Market for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project,” was published this week in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.
MassLive reports on a new library e-book law advancing in Massachusetts. "A redrafted bill to expand access to e-books and digital audiobooks in Massachusetts would not violate federal law, librarians said Monday, as they sought to quash concerns about a similar law in Maryland that was deemed unconstitutional last year," the report notes. “'We want to make sure that libraries can continue to meet their mission in the 21st century,” Balser told the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development." AAP general counsel Terry Hart, however, told lawmakers the new bill still conflicts with the U.S. Copyright Act and "threatens the entire creative economy."
And finally this week, former president Barack Obama has shared a reading list on Artificial Intelligence on medium ahead of the upcoming Obama Foundation Democracy Forum. "Ahead of those conversations, I wanted to share some of the books, articles, and podcasts that have helped shape my perspective over the past year," Obama wrote, offering a list that includes "a range of viewpoints on the threats, opportunities, and challenges posed by AI and some thoughtful ideas on how to respond." It's an excellent list. And with AI and the tech industry's power a hot topic in the publishing and library communities it's well worth a share.