BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In the wake of controversy over certain library books, Gov. Kay Ivey is suggesting some library funding be based on which ones are following “sensible policies” when it comes to books.
In a letter to Nancy Pack of the Alabama Public Library Service, sent Wednesday, Ivey both commended the service they have done in the state, but also criticized policies geared toward books that she deemed “inappropriate for children.” Ivey’s letter, which comes at the same time as Banned Books Week, came after Pack addressed Ivey’s concerns in a previous email. Pack explained that the APLS leaves editorial authority to each individual library over which books they would have.
Ivey’s concerns come as several lawmakers in Republican-led states have used the issue of “controversial books” as a lightning rod issue to guard children against what they term as indecent, such as books on sexuality.
“In my view, the common-sense approach would be to require local libraries to adopt their own policies governing the location and promotion of content that they deem inappropriate for children,” Ivey wrote. “Yet your submission makes clear that currently it is up to parents alone–with no support from libraries– to prevent their children from being exposed to these materials.”
Ivey went on to write that these policies do not do enough to “support parents hoping to protect their children from inappropriate content.”
“To be clear, I agree that parents bear ultimate responsibility for supervising their children’s reading material,” she said. “But the question here goes beyond that: what can libraries do to support parents in helping their children avoid harmful materials.”
Adding to her concerns, Ivey suggested that the APLS adopt different policies to ensure that “inappropriate” books were kept away from children. For example, she suggested that state aid for local libraries be based on the adoption of “sensible policies.”
According to Ivey, the Alabama Legislature last gave $6.6 million to the APLS this past fiscal year to distribute funds to libraries.
“Going forward, the Library Service should amend its requirements for state aid to include the submission of written policies covering (a) ‘physical location (and relocation) of material deemed inappropriate for children or youth’ and (b) ‘advance approval of materials recommended, displayed, or otherwise actively promoted by library staff,'” Ivey wrote. “Taking this action will leave the precise details up to local library boards. But it will ensure that every public library in the state newly considers these important ways to create a welcoming library environment.”
Ivey also suggested the APLS require all spending to the American Library Association be approved by a “relevant governing authority” in a public meeting, as well as allow libraries to respond to concerns by parents and the community over books they are concerned about.
“To reiterate, I agree that the decision of which books to obtain is a distinctly local issue, and I agree that books should not be ‘banned’ from libraries based on unpopular opinions or content. Libraries should be a place for exploring a wide variety of viewpoints and ideas,” Ivey wrote. “At the same time, however, libraries must not be a place to expose children to inappropriate content without the knowledge and consent of their parents. Libraries should listen to parents when it comes to what content is openly available in children’s sections of libraries.”
The controversy over which books libraries hold come as fewer people are going to libraries. According to the APLS, there were approximately 6.4 million visits to libraries statewide in FY 2021, down from 7.9 million in FY 2020. Nationwide, only 44% of Americans had visited a library in 2015, according to a Pew Research study.
Read Ivey’s full letter below: