Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Alabama’s libraries are underfunded, understaffed and under siege

CW / Riley Thompson
The Tuscaloosa Public Library located off of Jack Warner Parkway.

“Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse” is a pretty simple maxim. You shouldn’t put someone in a position of responsibility who can’t be trusted with that responsibility.

But for some reason, the Autauga-Prattville Public Library is now employing Lori Herring as a library associate. Herring is a prominent member of Clean Up Alabama, an organization that’s been openly attacking public libraries in the state since August 2023.

This development comes after the Alabama Political Reporter reported last month that the Prattville library was already leaning heavily on volunteers involved with Clean Up Alabama.

Why has the library been forced to rely so heavily on volunteers? Because the Prattville library board was stacked with right-wing extremists who’ve been trying to clean house and make the library into an example for fellow far-right organizers across the state.

In February, Prattville library board director Ray Boles passed a policy change forbidding the library from purchasing books advertised to minors with content including “obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance.”

Despite Boles’ statement that he doesn’t want to “look like we’re a bunch of redneck hicks attacking the LGBTQ community,” when Boles told then-library director Andrew Foster to move 113 books to the adult section, the majority of the 113 were “included solely for LGBTQ content” Foster said. Several titles appeared to be on the list only because Clean Up Alabama had previously complained about them.

And since Clean Up Alabama’s assault on the Prattville library began, more than half of the library’s original 17 employees have either resigned or been unceremoniously fired.

Assistant director Kaitlin Wilson was fired a few days after talking to the Alabama Political Reporter. Four employees were fired because they closed the library early in solidarity with Foster, who was also fired for talking to the press. And the remaining employees are mostly either part-timers or split between several branches.

The library is now so short-staffed that it is unable to offer any programs for Prattville community members unless they are volunteer-led.

In short, the Prattville library is barely treading water, and the Clean Up Alabama crew is denying all responsibility while working to slowly replace every actual librarian with partisan operatives.

Complaining about “fake news,” Boles refuses to talk to reputable local news outlets and is demonstrably willing to fire librarians for making even basic statements to the press. But he still popped onto a conservative radio show to blame Foster for pulling LGBTQ+ books off of the shelf, which Boles had specifically asked Foster to do in an email.

And unfortunately for Alabama’s children and library patrons of all stripes, unless something shocking happens, Prattville is about to be the statewide model. In a March op-ed published by 1819 News, an outlet with a history of anti-LGBTQ+ writing, Herring crowed about how Clean Up Alabama’s mission has now been adopted by Gov. Kay Ivey.

In February, Ivey appointed Amy Minton to the Alabama Public Library Service, the state agency that oversees the distribution of state funds to local libraries. Minton then proposed changes to the APLS code that almost exactly mirror the recent changes to the Prattville library’s policies.

On April 9, the House Ways and Means Education Committee approved a budget for the APLS that would reduce its funding by $750,000, or 18% of the APLS’ operating budget. If signed into law, the budget will also require that libraries obey Minton’s proposed changes in order to receive any state funds.

On April 4, as the outgoing chair of the UA Leftist Collective, I had the pleasure of helping co-host a local “Save Our Libraries” letter-writing event with the Birmingham Democratic Socialists of America. Attendees wrote dozens of letters to the APLS arguing against the proposed rules change.

In my letter, I wrote about how I learned firsthand just how important local libraries are back in my hometown of Virginia Beach.

I began volunteering with the Kempsville Library’s Teen Advisory Group pretty much the second I became a teen, mostly helping out with the weekly Teen Time events. The events ranged from anime nights to cooking competitions and board game get-togethers.

What Teen Time actually meant was that kids from across the Kempsville area had a regular opportunity to get together and socialize without worrying about socioeconomic status, bullying or people who wouldn’t accept their identity.

Libraries are more than just repositories for books. They are essential public spaces in a society with increasingly few of those.

As is made abundantly clear by the Prattville library’s recent travails, the homophobia and transphobia of Clean Up Alabama and its allies are threatening not just children’s ability to access age-appropriate content with LGBTQ+ themes and content, but the basic ability of public libraries to function.

If you want Alabama children to be able to read at the library and if you want vibrant local public spaces to still exist in a decade’s time, you need to speak out against Ivey and Clean Up Alabama’s takeover of the APLS. The public comment period ends April 30, and there are instructions for how to write a letter to the APLS here.

Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse. Save our libraries.

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