Alabama’s Break with ALA Signals Broader Attack on Library Independence

On January 30, in response to pressure from Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama Public Library Service—the agency that advises and administers funds to the state’s 220 public libraries—announced its official decision not to renew its membership with the American Library Association (ALA). But advocates are urged to look beyond the controversy over ALA to the larger issues in play, notably the growing influence that the state’s elected officials have on library freedoms.

Alabama is the most recent state to part ways with the American Library Association (ALA), joining Florida, Missouri, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming. On January 30, in response to pressure from Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS)—the agency that advises and administers funds to the state’s 220 public libraries—announced its official decision not to renew its membership with the association.

For much of the past year, Republican leaders—including John Wahl, who is both the incumbent chair of the Alabama Republican Party and serves as an APLS board member; House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter; House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen; and Rep. Susan Dubose—with the support of parental watchdog groups such as Clean Up Alabama, have been pushing APLS to sever ties with ALA. They cite concerns with ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, which opposes restrictions on library content, and ALA President Emily Drabinski’s 2022 tweet describing herself as a Marxist.

But advocates are urged to look beyond the controversy over ALA to the larger issues in play, notably the growing influence that the state’s elected officials have on library freedoms. While individual public libraries and staff are still free to join ALA at their own discretion, a proposed new administrative code for APLS—currently open for public comment—would place restrictions on how and where libraries that receive state aid through the agency can offer children’s material containing content deemed “sexually explicit or inappropriate.”



On September 1, 2023, Ivey sent a letter to APLS Director Dr. Nancy Pack expressing concern “about the environment our Alabama libraries are providing to families and children.” The letter criticized ALA and its Library Bill of Rights, and asked what measures APLS had taken to ensure that local libraries were providing “means to supervise their children and youth before encountering age-inappropriate materials.” Ivey went on to ask Pack whether APLS had received complaints from parents and which local libraries had adopted the Library Bill of Rights.

Pack responded in a letter outlining APLS’s duties and answering Ivey’s questions. The agency had received no requests from local libraries seeking guidance, Pack wrote, emphasizing that it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to determine what is appropriate for their children. She noted that APLS “actively encourages libraries to engage their communities in the policymaking process.”

She stated that APLS had not received any complaints from parents until August and September 2023, when Clean Up Alabama sent a letter on behalf of “many concerned parents” accusing libraries of distributing materials with “pornographic, highly sexual, and radical gender ideological content” to minors. Pack also explained that, while APLS policy incorporates the 1996 version of the Library Bill of Rights, it does not include article VII, adopted in 2019, which states, in part, “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use,” as Alabama state code provides for parental access to their children’s library records.

In an attached report, Pack provided an analysis of potential consequences of breaking with ALA: Loss of advocacy power, limited professional development opportunities, isolation from national initiatives, diminished resources and guidelines, impaired collaboration and networking, challenges in addressing national issues, impact on intellectual freedom efforts, reduced focus on diversity and inclusion, potential funding disadvantages, diminished perception of professionalism, loss of accreditation impact, and challenges in addressing technological advances. She added, “It’s important to note that the ALA’s support for [Drabinski’s] views does not necessarily imply an endorsement of Marxism as a whole.”

“While I understand the concerns raised nationally and by local groups in Alabama, I believe that severing ties with the American Library Association (ALA) would be a disservice to the principles of intellectual freedom, education, and democratic discourse that our society holds dear,” Pack wrote.



The September, 13, APLS Board meeting drew heated opinions from both sides of the aisle, with several state GOP members warning that if APLS did not take action—both to cut ties with ALA and to “shield children from content they clearly should not see, hear, or read,” in Stadthagen’s words—they would consider legislative action.

That October, Ivey announced that she planned to restrict funds for Alabama public libraries that didn’t adopt policies requiring more parental supervision, and requested that they reconsider membership in ALA. She recommended that APLS tie state aid to the adoption of parental supervision policies, require that all funds directed to ALA be approved by the relevant governing authority, and maintain greater oversight of “local libraries’ ability to respond to parental concerns about sexually explicit or other inappropriate materials”—such as the policy adopted by the Autauga-Prattville Public Library in September that no longer allows youth under 15 into the library without adult supervision.

Threats to cut funding had its desired effect. In an October 12 administrative memorandum, Pack advised libraries to look to their communities, rather than ALA, to help guide their decision-making. “As Alabama public libraries, we should 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,” she wrote. She went on to state that APLS would discontinue its institutional membership to ALA.

However, not all of APLS leadership agreed. At its November 2023 meeting, the APLS Board voted unanimously to delay a vote to break with ALA to study its potential impact, and some criticized Ivey’s tactics. “I think that all of this controversy, which has involved a handful of libraries in this state out of the 220, has damaged all libraries in terms of the funding we so desperately need,” said board chair Ronald Snider.

Board member Virginia Doyle was also outspoken in her disapproval of state Republicans’ tactics. “I don’t know who got to the state legislators and the governor’s office and [had] them threaten to take our budget away from us, [but] it’s just wrong,” she said during the meeting. The following week, Doyle was removed from her position by Ivey.

Even after Pack's October memo, Members of Clean Up Alabama have called for her to resign, stating in a press release that the organization does not believe Pack will follow through on disaffiliating with ALA.



The resolution to cut ties with ALA in March 2024, when the state’s annual membership expires, was finalized when the board reconvened in January. Individual libraries still have the option to retain their affiliation with ALA, and many agree that the decision won’t seriously impact the operations of Alabama’s public libraries.

“I think there were maybe 19, 20 institutional members left in the state, and individual numbers of around 500, and probably over half of those were paid out of pocket,” said Angie Hayden, a representative of Read Freely Alabama, a grassroots group fighting censorship in libraries. Many of the state’s lowest funded libraries were not able to afford ALA access to begin with, she noted. “This won’t really end up affecting them, because the reality is that they they weren’t able to benefit much from [ALA] to begin with.”

However, the broader changes to the APLS administrative code for 2024, proposed at the same time, would have a significant effect. They make state aid dependent upon libraries’ cooperation with policies put forward by Ivey. These include calls for written policies on the physical location of children’s material deemed by the library’s board to be “sexually explicit or inappropriate,” and for advance approval of materials that are recommended, displayed, or promoted to children. In direct opposition to the Library Bill of Rights, the policy change also states that restricting access to materials based on a patron’s age does not constitute an unjust denial of service.

These requirements would put library boards in charge of many decisions previously made by library staff and administration. Senate Bill 10, introduced on January 4 and sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliott, would allow city or county officials to remove board members at will, potentially replacing anyone who disagrees with their appointing authorities.

The proposed changes stand to hit the state’s underfunded libraries hardest, noted Alabama Library Association (ALLA) Advocacy Coordinator Jessica Hayes. Administrators at larger, more well-funded libraries might decide that the relatively small amount of state aid they receive isn’t worth compromising their professional ethics. “But our underfunded rural Black Belt region libraries would be decimated. Proponents of the admin code changes will say, ‘Well, they just have to follow the rules.’”

But those rules—particularly when it comes to physically separating books—may be impossible to comply with. “When you’re operating out of a trailer, where are you going to put your young adult section where your children can’t reach it?” Hayes wondered. Instead of state officials tying those rules to needed funding, she said, “maybe they should be giving more money to allow for these changes to be made.”

The proposed code must be rejected or amended, she added, and support from library staff and advocates, anti-censorship groups, and individuals across the state has been strong. “But we need support, and we need amplification of what is occurring here in Alabama,” said Hayes. ALLA has released a counterproposal; it aligns largely with Ivey’s recommendations, with the exception of a section declaring that libraries cannot stand in place of parents to decide what content is suitable for minors.

“Per the 1975 Code of Alabama, Section 11-90-3, the public library must be easily available to all citizens of its county or municipality; and it cannot deny service to anyone on the basis of age, race, sex or creed,” ALLA’s counterproposal states. “For any minor in the public library, the parent/guardian retains the ultimate authority to determine what materials their child may or may not access. The library cannot act in loco parentis .”

A public comment period is currently open through the end of April for individuals to address the proposed APLS policy changes, which would affect any Alabama public libraries that receive state funding. Written comments should be mailed or hand-delivered to Vanessa Carr, Executive Secretary, Alabama Public Library Service, 6030 Monticello Drive, Montgomery, AL, 36117. Requests to make oral comments should be sent to A public hearing on will be held on April 30th.

“This attack on ALA is a symbolic attack on the professionalism of libraries and librarians,” said Hayes. “It is trying to isolate us from the foundation of our profession, thinking that when they take away the ALA Bill of Rights, which is one of the things they would like to do, that will somehow undermine our profession and what we do—not realizing that if we don’t use the ALA Bill of Rights, okay, we’ll just use the regular Bill of Rights.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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